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Breeding and Raising Silkworms

Author:

Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises, and other exotics since 2003.

How to Raise Silkworms

Silkworms are a great staple feeder for your reptile. Here are some of the reasons they are one of the better feeders for your pet:

  • They are packed with nutrients
  • They have no smell
  • They can't jump or run away
  • They cannot bite
  • They are slow-moving

Silkworms can be a great feeder, but of all the feeder insects, they are hardest to breed—although it's not impossible to accomplish.

Materials Needed for Breeding

  • Plastic containers
  • Wire or toilet paper roll for worms to cocoon
  • Incubator
  • Petri dishes
  • Silkworm chow
  • Mulberry leaves if available

How to Set Up Their Habitat

Since silkworms do not drink water, they get their needed moisture from the food they eat. You will need a covered container to raise them in. The container should be almost air-tight to prevent the food from drying out but have small holes to allow air exchange.

  • Add the toilet paper roll for the silkworms to climb and cocoon on.
  • Add food, either a commercial-made silkworm chow or mulberry leaves. Silkworms eat 24/7, so food must be constantly provided in the container.
  • A good temperature to keep silkworms at would range from 78-88 degrees F.

How to Breed Silkworms

Raising and keeping silkworms alive is one thing, but breeding is another story. Silkworms will spin a cocoon about 28 days from the time they hatched if they are raised at approximately 85 degrees, fed, and maintained regularly. Place a piece of paper or a paper towel on the bottom of the container, so that when the moths emerge and are ready to lay eggs, the paper can be removed with the eggs, easily.

Once the moths emerge, they will mate. (Females are significantly larger than male moths.) They stay mated for about a day, and after separation, the female lays eggs, while the male looks for another female to mate with. Sometimes another male will grab the female before she can lay eggs.

How many eggs does a female lay?

Each female will lay between 200–500 golden yellow eggs! Put paper on the bottom of the container and remove empty cocoons as the moths emerge. The moths will lay eggs on the paper.

How can I tell if they are fertile?

When first laid, all eggs are lemon-yellow. After three days, they will turn white if they are infertile, or turn black if they are fertile. Fertile eggs usually hatch about two weeks after being laid in the middle of the summer, but they usually won't hatch unless subjected to "winter" in your refrigerator for at least several weeks.

How do I store the eggs?

Wait until the eggs turn black before putting them in the Ziplock bag in the refrigerator. Once you take eggs out of the fridge, they will hatch in about 7-20 days. Direct sunlight in the morning for a few hours quickens the hatching process.

How do I hatch the eggs?

To incubate the eggs, place about 200 of them on a petri dish. Keep the eggs between 78 and 88 degrees F. An incubator works best at keeping the temperatures stable. The eggs can hatch at room temperature but will take longer.

Place a damp paper towel next to the petri dish to keep the humidity levels high. Once the eggs have turned from a purplish color to a light bluish/gray, shows signs that they should hatch within a couple of days.

How do I feed the hatchlings?

When the eggs begin to hatch, prepare silkworm chow, and place it in the refrigerator to it will be ready. Once they start to hatch, place small bits of chow in the petri dish, so the emerging worms will have something to munch on. Remember silkworms eat constantly, so always provide food. Try not to let the chow touch the unhatched eggs.

It is better to keep the young silkworms in the incubator to better assure their survival rates. After about 8 to 12 days, you can remove the worms from the petri dish, and place them into a small plastic container.

How do I prevent mold from developing?

Remember to clean the container to prevent mold. Mold develops from high temperatures and high humidity. If the worms are covered too long, mold can develop and may kill the worms. If mold develops, grate about 1/2 inch of chow all over the worms with a cheese grater. Several hours later, as the worms crawl to the top of the new chow pile you can peal and lift them off the moldy chow and place them into a new container.

General Care Tips

Remember to always provide the silkworms, of all ages, with food, either chow or mulberry leaves. Remember that young silkworms have weak jaws, so if you are using Mulberry leaves, provide only the smallest, newly grown leaves.

Silkworms

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

smile1999 on June 14, 2012:

hi i got about 8 silkworms from a friend and its been almost a month and they're really big but theres no silk.... has something gone wrong?

hayzodude on May 18, 2012:

i have 7 silkworms, and 6 of them are sealed in their own cocoons. but one of my silkworms appears to be a bit black and has shrunk. he has been busy spinning a cocoon for 5 days now, and i'm really worried. it was normal in the past few days.

Horse20 from South Africa on September 19, 2011:

I am wondering,I have 8 silkies and from hatching am feeding them beetrut leafs. Will they still servive without mulberry leafs? I don't have a mulberry tree near me. What should i do?

Shanaaz on August 13, 2011:

Hi I'm also from South africa. generally grow my silkies on mulberry leaves but are trying lettuce for the first time. I must admit the worms are not as healthy and none have made it to cocoon stage yet. I'm having the same problem as Dave. many are found dead in a on a wet spot and are black and sometimes flat. Any idea why?

PenGuin on February 25, 2011:

I'm with Marie on they're fine on whatever you feed them from birth. I grew up in South Africa and kept silkies pretty much all through my childhood. Sometimes kept several shoeboxes - one with mulberry, one with white cabbage, one with red cabbage - never tried lettuce though. The lifecycle takes approx 3 months with approx 2-3 weeks from lay-to-hatch, 4 weeks to grow, molting 4 times as they are "very hungry caterpillars" and outgrow their own skeleton/skin!

curtis on December 21, 2010:

ok i wanna start breeding silkworms can somebody tell me the easiest way to this please!! what happens if the moths fly out of the container what can i do to prevent that?

Whitney (author) from Georgia on December 10, 2010:

Generally, you want to start with a larger collection.

jazashdenzel on December 10, 2010:

Do you think 7 silk worms is enough to try to breed them? We did have a lot more when we got them from the prep class as "pets", but our lizard did enjoy eating them as tasty snacks!

Class 1S on November 03, 2010:

We are raising silkworms in our classroom, and we are wondering whether they can see? We're not sure if they can see or not. Can someone help us please?

From 1S.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2010:

I wouldn't worry too much. Just keep an eye on them. Sometimes they don't all grow at the same pace.

Sophie Mcgeady on October 27, 2010:

I need some help here i have just hatched silk wormes for the first time and i have never really looked after the babies. 2 of the silk worms are changed in colour and are big enough to see but the others are not very lively should i be worried what should i do???

Annoying9876543210 on October 22, 2010:

Marie:

"Silkworms can eat lettuce, cabbage or beetroot leaves, but then you must feed the specific leaf FROM HATCHING. Whatever they eat "from birth" is the only plant they can eat the rest of their lives without dying." - Not quite! Silkworms can only survive and stay healthy on mulberry leaves. You can feed them lettuce, cabbage or beetroot leaves towards the end, maybe a week or a little longer before they spin their cocoons to get different colored cocoons (and they will switch to eating it after being fed with mulberry leaves for the first several weeks, mine did!), but by this time they have built up enough energy from the mulberry leaves to survive the ordeal. If you only feed the worms these other foods from when they hatch, they will die or be very sick puppies by the time they spin, I'm not sure they'll make it though... Mulberry leaves contain specific chemicals/nutrients that the other plant matter don't have and is essential to have healthy silkworms.

Someone on October 17, 2010:

How do ya tell the difference in male n female????

Marie on September 13, 2010:

Silkworms can eat lettuce, cabbage or beetroot leaves, but then you must feed the specific leaf FROM HATCHING. Whatever they eat "from birth" is the only plant they can eat the rest of their lives without dying.

rachael on June 15, 2010:

I really want to breed silkies -- can anyone help? This website helped a lot but I may need some more lol.

Joe MAMA on June 07, 2010:

i have a question that i would want someone to answer ASAP please,

i have 4 silkworms, do i have to have an incubator? do i have to put the eggs in a fridge?? if someone could please answer this for me. i would be very pleased. thankyou,

Joe MAMA

Jim Strutzin on June 02, 2010:

Any ideas on why silkworms are ideal for reptiles, perhaps they are healthier? Great hub and feedback.

reviewadon on April 19, 2010:

this brings back memories, I used to breed these thigns when I was a kid. (or at least I watched while my mum did it all!)

Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 08, 2010:

Is the food on the paper towels? If so the paper towels are draining the water out.

Dave on March 05, 2010:

Right now I have them on a pre mixed chow from silkworm breeders, the worms are housed in a rubber made container and the bottom is line with paper towel. Daytime temps are about 84 and nighttime temps are 79ish.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 05, 2010:

The spots are probably defecation. Are you mixing enough water into the dry mix in the beginning? Where are the silkworms housed? What are the daytime temperatures? What are the silkworms housed in?

Dave on March 04, 2010:

A couple hours tops, also, my silkworms are dieing off like crazy!!!! they're large silkworms and i keep the temps between 78 and 85 day and night, i came home from work today and there was like 7 dead silkworms out of like 20. They were all black and flat. There has to be something wrong, Also, i noticed that there are some wet spots on the papertowel, is that the silks urinating? or is that a problem, I'm not sure what im doing wrong, I need help though. Thanks a lot!!!

Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 04, 2010:

I've never had problems keeping the chow moistened. It only lasts for a day or so anyway. How long is yours lasting?

Dave on March 03, 2010:

How do you keep a stable temp without the chow drying out in just a couple hours ?

alana on February 27, 2010:

woww my silkworm eggs just hatched a few days ago and they are doing fine on lettuce!!!!! i have raised many silkworms on lettuce they are all fine soo what's the thing about only mullberry leaves

Whitney (author) from Georgia on February 08, 2010:

They can only eat mulberry leaves or the powder mixed with water.

Madeleen on February 06, 2010:

Just a question... If you start feeding silkworms mulberry leaves can you switch over to lettuce/cabbage/beetroot leaves ie. can you feed them a mixture or should you stick to one chosen diet?

xprincess9x on December 28, 2009:

heey i only have 1 silkworm left all the other 10 died! :(

Whitney (author) from Georgia on October 22, 2009:

Females are larger, much larger.

Celine Picard on October 22, 2009:

How do you now if a moth is a girl or a boy?

Allan on October 12, 2009:

South African Silkworms well that's what we call them. We can feed ours with Cabbage/lettuce/Betroot for red Cocoons and Mulberry. I used to have 3000 silkies but due to the cold winter many did not make it. I have round about nine silkies and I am wondering if there will be enough males and females. I have 1 white one and the rest have stripes is that a varriation

Whitney (author) from Georgia on June 13, 2009:

They'll coccoon around the food.

Cheyenne on June 12, 2009:

Just brought home silkworms from my sons class.. also have some of the "chow" they had at the school that was already made.. hoping they cocoon before I run out of it lol. Do you have to separate them from a food source before they will do so? or will they do it even with food around?

create on May 29, 2009:

Read the book Project mulberry very informative

DEBBIE on May 21, 2009:

We raise silkworms as part of our science unit in first grade. I have a ton of eggs...would anyone like them?

Sheldon on May 15, 2009:

u Can tel the male and the female apart the one with stripes is male

rachey on May 13, 2009:

secretscp, you shouldn't be feeding your iguana protein though! tsk tsk.

nicko guzman from Los Angeles,CA on April 17, 2009:

Silkworms are extinct in the wild annd are fully domesticated.They cannot fly unlike their wild,now extinct ancestors.Great hub.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on January 17, 2009:

You can check out a few websites online. they offer a powdered mulberry mix that you mix with water (if i remember correctly). You can use that instead of actual leaves.

secretscp on January 16, 2009:

This is really fascinating. I should try this for my iguana. Where can you get mulberry leaves if you don't know where to find the trees?

Whitney (author) from Georgia on December 15, 2008:

You can't tell until they're moths.

someone on December 15, 2008:

how can u tell if a silkworm is male or female?

Whitney (author) from Georgia on December 04, 2008:

try mulberryfarms other than that, i'm not sure.

Alice on December 04, 2008:

Hi,

I'm trying to buy some silkworms for my kids to raise as pets, can you recommend any place that I can order from?

Thank you!

Whitney (author) from Georgia on November 15, 2008:

I would stick with just the leaves.

sally08 on November 14, 2008:

can silkworms eat mulberry berrys i have been feeding mine them and they eat them so igust want to no if they do.is it bad for them.

tamika on November 13, 2008:

how do you tell the diff between male and female??

bob on September 30, 2008:

one of my silkworms didn't spin its cocoon and has gone a dark yellow colour.what will happen to it?

Whitney (author) from Georgia on September 25, 2008:

Typically they are incubated in an incubator, such as a hovabator incubator. You should be able to just remove them.

BigJohnster on September 24, 2008:

Hey, how do you go about incubating the eggs? I believe they have to be glued down for some reason? what's the process of getting them in an incubator after moving them from the place they were laid? What should the eggs even be laid on?

thanks in advance!

-Big John Ster

CK147 on August 20, 2008:

18 YEARS AGO I had a 5th grade teacher who every year had them as a class project and many of us my self included took them home as pets and loved raising them.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on July 23, 2008:

for best results use an incubator. He may have the shoebox at more stable and warmer temps.

Silkworm fan on July 23, 2008:

Can I hatch silkworm eggs from a shoebox cuz that's what my next door nabour does and it does not work for me and i do exactly what he does.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on June 20, 2008:

They've actually been popular for several years...

someone on June 20, 2008:

Silkworms became popular like 3 months ago.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on June 19, 2008:

They've been pretty popular for the reptile community for several years now.

I'm not a silkworm farmer, so I wouldn't know about that one. ;-)

Health Conscious from South Florida - USA on June 18, 2008:

2Questions I have to ask.

When did silkworms become so popular?

Have any of you silkworms farmers ever spun any silk?

:-)

Another well written post - don't know why I read it but It was fun.

PC45 on May 25, 2008:

Quick question, does anyone know if the eggs stick to the surface they are first placed on, im afraid that if im not around they will either lay them on a towel covered with the fluid they release when they hatch from their coccoon or they will lay the eggs on the bottom and i wont be able to move them

Whitney (author) from Georgia on May 14, 2008:

Are the worms fully maured? You may consider raising the temps just a few degrees to induce the silkworms to coccoon.

uljanna on May 14, 2008:

Hi I have like 800 worms and they wont breed I have had them for a week and no breeding.Your page directions made 6 silkworms breed and that's it.but your info is helpful.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2008:

What do you need help with exactly?

angel on May 06, 2008:

i have to do a project for my school so i need some help seraching about silkworms but i have to write it in my own way please help me

Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on April 21, 2008:

Ah, brings back memories. I used to raise silk worms every year as a child, from the time I was about 4 to the time I was 8 or so.

Whitney (author) from Georgia on April 20, 2008:

What do you need help with?

Can't tell on April 20, 2008:

Whitney05, You are awesome! I want to raise silkworms. My best friend and I are doing an Animal Club. I have to raise Silkworms! I don't have anything to do it with. HELP!

michelle2020 on April 02, 2008:

amazing videos.........

yesmessenger on March 12, 2008:

To me these silkworms don't look very appetizing...

Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 10, 2008:

Not really. You can buy silkworm mix that you mix with water.

natalie on March 10, 2008:

i cant find malbruy leaves is there any thing else thay can eat

Whitney (author) from Georgia on January 15, 2008:

You should be able to see them moving around. I am not 100%, as I've never successfully hactched silkworms. But, at the slightest movement, definitely provide just a little bit of food.

Nancy1424 on January 15, 2008:

This is more of a question and if anyone knows the answer, please answer! I am hatching silkworms for the first time ever and i think they are getting close to hatching but my question is how can you tell when they are hatched they are pretty small so can you see them moving around? I want to make sure to give them food so they don't starve. Please help! Thanks.

Krysta on November 13, 2007:

Cool videos !

Carl on November 09, 2007:

Ouhhh!!! yuck, grouse , like totally disgusting!

Tiffany Haddett on November 09, 2007:

Wow that is cool!