Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Beginning

I love bugs. I think they're really cool. Sure, spiders creep me out a little (but they're technically not bugs). Anyway, just for fun, I did a lot of research into the medieval methods of raising silkworms, and then tried my hand at it. I was able to successfully rear the domesticated silkmoth, Bombyx mori, using medieval methods. My research was published in Tournaments Illuminated, and can be viewed here.

During my research I discovered the widely held belief that the quality of the silk made by the worms was affected by the food that they eat. B. mori eat mulberry leaves and produce a silk that is white, shiny, and very smooth. In contrast, wild tussah moths make a tan silk that is rougher in texture, supposedly due to the tannins in the leaves they eat as they forage in the wild.

It occured to me that at one time B. mori was a wild moth before it's domestication in China in 2000 B.C. I have not found records of how they were domesticated. The entire process of obtaining silk was a closely guarded secret in ancient China, so there may be no written record of their domestication. B. mori must have been chosen for domestication because of the fine silk that it makes. However, evidence exists that the Chinese used other wild silkmoth silk for making garments. One silk used was from the moth Antheraea pernyi, or the chinese oak silkmoth.

Is it possible that the Chinese experimented with domesticating other wild breeds? If so, did they experiment with feeding other species mulberry leaves in an attempt to improve the silk? A. pernyi cocoons are much larger than B. mori, and would yield more silk. This lead me to designing the following experiment - rear colonies of B. mori and A. pernyi and divide each colony into two groups - mulberry leaf diet and oak leaf diet - to compare the silk created by each species with each type of diet.

Due to the fact that A. pernyi are not native to the United States and are considered a pest insect, my first action was to write a research proposal and submit it to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to obtain a permit for the import of A. pernyi cocoons. My research proposal can be read here. I recieved my permit on 10/16/2006.

My next action is to construct an insectary in my basement for the rearing of my worms. I have until May 2007 to get this accomplished, since my cocoons will not be shipped until then. I'll document the progress here. My plan is to have an enclosed room where I can keep the temperature and light/dark cycles as constant as possible.

I'll update again as progress is made. Feel free to contact me at

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