Thursday, August 28, 2008

On the upswing

Yay! No dead bugs this morning! They are all fat, happy and eating like pigs. I think having more space agrees with them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Out of the woods?

The death toll is now at 43. However I think it's slowing down, since there were only 2 dead worms this evening compared to the ten I disposed of this morning. Between feeding, cleaning, and disinfecting I've been spending a lot of time in my bug room. It's now a very crowded room because I have Colony A split between three containers, and Colonies B and C split into two. I never thought I would have this many bugs, and also never suspected that the room would be too small. As it is I still have enough room, but it's getting pretty tight in there.

But the bugs seem happy and are staying alive, so I think we're on the upswing.

In other news, I've found two other species of caterpillars that I let go in my back yard, in addition to three praying mantids. The mantids are very young nymphs that hitched a ride on the oak leaves and they are adorable. I haven't had a chance to identify the caterpillars. In any case, they are all hopefully doing well outside. I didn't keep the mantids for fear that they wouldn't get enough to eat, even though I saw small leafhoppers and some spiders in with my oak leaves. Had my worms been smaller I'd have worried that they'd eat the worms, but the worms are at least 20 times bigger than the mantids that I found so I wasn't worried. I might have to raise some of them on down the road because they are so damn cool.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Damage control

Last night I went through and divided Colony A into three groups, because I found five more dead worms. The three groups are -

- actively eating/healthy looking
- molting, stationary, and questionable health
- probably ill

I put the healthy ones in a new big container that has lots of airflow. This morning it looks like most of the molting and sick worms are okay. In fact some from both groups had molted and were eating just fine. However, I found four more dead worms in the healthy group. They looked like they had just died and weren't spewing liquid, so I hope I got them out in time.

I'll have two more big airy containers by the end of this evening so I can split my other two colonies. I need to cut down the crowding and increase the airflow on all my colonies or I'm going to run into the same issues.

So far, the death toll stands at 21.

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Monday, August 25, 2008


Colony A is at the tail end of their third molting. I try to leave them alone when they are molting but the rearing container started to feel a little humid to me so I decided to clean it out. I was careful not to disturb the worms too much, but I had to take them out of the container to empty all the frass from it. All but a few of the worms were attached to branches so I didn't have to handle them much. I thought I was in good shape.

However, this morning I had to clear out six dead worms. This is the first time I've had dead worms that didn't look like they were really behind developmentally. three of them looked like they had some sort of molting issue - one had the old skin still on it's rear and, and two of the others looked like the old skin had formed a band around the body, like a really tight belt, kind of squishing the worm. The other three just looked stiff and dead. No nasty fluids, although they were a little brownish. I hope they don't have some sort of virus.

Colonies B and C are at the beginning of their third molt. So far I haven't lost any of those. I know I still have plenty of worms left, but I also know that if I'm not careful it would be easy for a nasty disease to wipe out one or all of my colonies. I'm hoping my hubby and I can finish the ventilated containers that I'm working on. I think that will help with air circulation and hopefully decrease my chances for disease.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Biting off more than I can chew

My A. pernyi colonies are doing very well. Colony A has had their second molting, and colonies B and C are just about done with theirs. I've been feeding them twice a day and they have been eating tons of leaves. This morning I underestimated the amount of leaves that I'd need for Colony A, and when I came home this is what the rearing container looked like -

Colony B and C are a few days younger and some are still molting so they aren't eating quite as much. I'm starting to get a little concerned that I'm not going to be able to keep up with this many bugs!

I'm in the process of building three new, larger rearing containers with screens in the top and sides. Humidity is going to become a problem but I'm hoping that increased ventilation and good cleaning will help reduce my chances of disease. There are so many bugs and their space is going to get tight as they get bigger, so sickness could possibly give me a colony wipe. Sure, I have two other colonies, but I really don't want any of my worms to die off.

Actually, I now have four colonies. Yesterday while I was collecting oak leaves I saw that some of the leaves had what I thought was a wild caterpillar on them. Of course I had to take them home and put them in a rearing container. Here is what they look like.

They are really shiny and almost look slimy. Unlike my cutie silkworms I really don't want to touch these things. Their font legs look very long, spiky, and spider-like. I posted a pic of them on the Silkworm Yahoo group list and a member posted almost immediately that these are sawfly larvae. Yuck. So I won't be getting a nice moth or butterfly out of them. Needless to say, they are going in the freezer tonight.

As far as my A. pernyi colonies go, at this same temperature my last batch of bugs took seven weeks to start spinning. Right now I'm on week two. It's going to be an interesting next five weeks. I hope my supply of oak leaves doesn't dry up!


Thursday, August 14, 2008

The first molt

It turns out that the first batch of silkworms (Brood A) hatched out on August 7th. They began their first molt on August 12th. I took some pictures but they are hard to see because my camera isn't good at taking pictures of such small objects.

The first picture shows a good shot of a green molted worm next to a black unmolted one.

The second shot shows a newly molted worm and the black skin that it wiggled out of.

The last shot is just a bunch of worms.

Broods B and C hatched on August 9th and molted today. A few days ago they slowed down their eating and many of them had adopted the "prayer" stance where they rise up the front half of their bodies. This is typical when they are about to molt. However this species tends to be a bit shy and will sit in prayer stance when I open the lid of the rearing container. Hopefully I can get a decent shot of that when the worms get a bit bigger.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

The scary kind of success

When I got back from Pennsic yesterday I found that my eggs had hatched. Apparently the few days at 60 degrees didn't harm them at all and also had the slowing effect that I wanted. It looked like they had just hatched that morning, so putting them at 60 degrees for four days had slowed them down for exactly four days.

My plan is to feed this batch all oak leaves, and then select cocoons to overwinter from each of the three pairings. I'm not sure how many I'll keep from each pairing - maybe six.

I'm a little concerned that I'll be able to keep up with so many worms. They are only a day old and they are already eating like fiends. They are wandering a bit so I keep picking them off the tops of the containers and putting them back on the leaves. The A group seemed to have hatched first and they are the most settled down on the food, after three or four times of getting moved back to the leaves.

I think I'm going to be busy. Yikes!


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Off to War

I'm leaving for Pennsic tomorrow, and my eggs are all still at 60 degrees. I've decided to take them out tomorrow morning before I leave for work. I'm not going to heat my insectary up to 80 degrees yet. I'm just going to leave it at ambient temperature of about 70 degrees. Hopefully this will slow them down a little too and they won't hatch until I get back.

Just in case I do get some hatching I'm going to put leaves in with the eggs. I'm going to put the branches in test tubes with water in them so that the leaves will stay fresh and won't dry out. I'll have someone come in and check to see that the tubes still have water in them, so I think that should cover all the bases. I'm still planning on keeping the pairings separate.

Hopefully when I get back I'll have eggs that will hatch in short order.

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