Silkworms are one of the best foods for pets such as reptiles. However, raising silkworms isn’t easy given how delicate they are. It’s even harder when you’re raising them for their silk. The good news is that you can breed these worms at home and enjoy their benefits, as detailed in the sections below.
Silkworms have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. You breed them by buying the eggs that hatch into silkworms. They spin silk and form a pupa, after which they turn into adult moths. The moths mate with their tails conjoined then the females lay eggs to start the cycle again.
How to breed silkworms
You should understand each silkworm development stage to know what to do for the best results. Like other insects, they have the main 4 stages of life, namely the egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
However, unlike other insects, where you start breeding with the elder stages (larva and adult), you can start silkworm breeding with the eggs. You need toilet paper rolls (for cocoons), Petri dishes, mulberry leaves, silkworm chow (food), plastic containers, and an incubator.
Silkworm breeding habitat
You should create a conducive habitat for the silkworms at different stages of their life to facilitate their growth. They’re delicate insects that need constant moisture, but you should be careful not to provide too much of it so that their habitat develops mold and germs.
You should create a good silkworm habitat as follows:
- Put a toilet paper roll into the plastic container for the worms’ cocooning.
- Provide food in the habitat since silkworms are always eating. This can be mulberry leaves or commercial silkworm chow.
- Keep the silkworm habitat between 78 and 88°F.
- Keep the container almost airtight to prevent the escape of moisture. Leave enough space for air circulation so the silkworms don’t suffocate.
These conditions ensure that all the worm stages have enough to eat and aren’t too cold or too hot. This allows them to grow into more adult stages, the most important of which is the worm.
Silk worm life cycle
Silkworms have 4 main stages of their lifecycle, namely the egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Of these stages, you can buy eggs or worms as you choose. You can also decide on the type of silkworms you want to raise since different worms produce different types of silk in terms of color and other properties.
The lifecycle of a silkworm is as follows:
|Silkworm Stage||Time Taken|
|Larva (silkworms)||20-33 days|
|Whole life cycle||6-8 weeks|
1. Silkworm eggs
You can buy silkworm eggs from a pet shop to your home. When laid, silkworm eggs are lemon-yellow in color. With time, they change color to black, light brown, gray-purple, or gray-green. Infertile eggs will turn white after three days.
When the eggs turn color (from lemon-yellow), put them in a ziplock bag, place them in the fridge at about 50°F (10°C) for 2-3 weeks, then remove them. Place about 200 eggs in a petri dish, where they will hatch in 7 to 20 days.
Keep the eggs at temperatures of 78-88°F, preferably in an incubator. While the eggs can hatch at room temperature, they will take longer at this temperature.
Keep the eggs moist by placing a damp paper towel close to the Petri dishes but not on them. As the eggs turn light blue/gray, you know they’re about to hatch. Eggs that turn blue may be a sign of poor handling. They may still hatch, however.
2. Silkworms (larva)
As the eggs turn color in readiness for hatching, place some silkworm chow in the fridge to prepare for the young silkworms. Once you notice tiny worms in the petri dish, place the silkworm chow in the dish for the worms to start feeding on. Don’t touch the unhatched eggs in the process.
To increase their survival rates, keep the silkworms in the incubator with stable temperatures of 78-88°F for 8-12 days, then place them in a larger plastic container afterward.
In this new container, provide the worms with food constantly. Feed silkworms on silkworm chow or mulberry leaves (soft ones for young and mature ones for the older worms).
When feeding them mulberry leaves, clean them by running them under the tap and then shaking them dry. Some dampness isn’t bad too. You can also disinfect the leaves by adding 44 ml (3 tablespoons) of bleach and a small amount (a drop) of dishwashing detergent to a gallon (3.8 l) of water.
After soaking the leaves in the mixture for 3 minutes, rinse them thoroughly, dry them, then give them to the worms.
Give the silkworms enough food each day since they’re always eating. A mulberry leaf a day is a good start. After a while, increase the food as the worms mature.
You can mix mulberry leaves and silkworm chow. If you’re feeding them to your pets, you can also gut-load them as needed. Adult silkworms also make great food for bearded dragons and other pet reptiles.
In their habitat as mature silkworms, provide temperatures of 68-81°F (20-27°C). They also love humid conditions, although you should be careful not to provide conditions for mold growth. Place damp paper towels in their habit for moisture.
Give the silkworms a few hours of indirect sunlight during the day if possible. Too much sunlight will kill the worms, while 1 or 2 hours of indirect sunlight helps them grow stronger and healthier. Silkworms that get light in the day and darkness at night feed more and grow faster. However, they can survive in the dark quite well.
Clean their habitat every second day to remove old food, feces and skin molts to avoid mold and other germs. Simply scrub their habitat with a soft brush without water or soap, which can kill the worms. Molting occurs when the silkworms hold their heads up and stay still for a day, followed by skin shedding.
3. Silkworm cocoon (pupa)
After your silkworms have molted four times, they will feed for 6 to 7 days and then start making a cocoon. If you notice their bodies becoming a bit translucent, they have stopped eating and keep raising their heads; they’re ready to spin their silk cocoons.
Encourage them by adding rolls of toilet paper to the habitat. You can also use newspapers rolled up into circles for the best results. Don’t bother with those that already started spinning their silk cocoons since you might harm them.
After spinning the silk for 2-3 days, the worm will pupate another 2-3 days. The silkworm pupa takes 8-14 days to turn into an adult moth. Don’t disturb the cocoons during this period since you can kill them in the process.
4. Silkworm moth (adult)
After 8-14 days of pupating, the pupa turns into an adult silkworm moth. Male moths are smaller than females, and both genders of moths don’t feed. They will mate right away with their tail ends conjoined for about a day. The adult moths live for 3-10 days and can’t fly. These moths are very similar to waxworm moths.
Most silkworms reproduce once a year with females laying about 200-500 eggs. However, if the ones you bought had a label like bivoltine, polyvoltine, or a number 100 or above, it means that they can be bred for several generations per year. Silkworm breeding isn’t always perfect since it’s significantly affected by light and heat, like other worms such as superworms.
University of Oregon. Lady Silkworm.