Monday, May 4, 2009

It's over

I'm been resisting posting this because it's sad for me. Out of 11 cocoons I had five males and six females which resulted in no matings. I have one lonely female left alive, and she is just hanging around waiting to die. Somehow the death of the moth is not as sad if they have mated because then it seems like they have fulfilled their purpose in life.

Before most of the moths died I contacted a moth expert from Canada and he made several very good suggestions. I even tried hand-pairing the moths, which is where you hold the moth's butts together and sort of force the issue if they are reluctant. That didn't even work. When none of the suggestions worked he concluded that my moths were probably too closely related to mate. Many species has a built in mechanism that prevents them from mating with siblings or even close cousins. It's good for the gene pool, but not for a small breeder. The B. mori don't have a problem inbreeding, but inbreeding can cause other issues like sudden death of the worms or disease.

So, my project has totally stalled out. For the next few months I will be unable to raise A. pernyi, but I can raise some B. mori. In a few weeks I will order 200 eggs or so and give those another try. I had no issues with raising them last time, so I anticipate much better success. I will try and get more A. pernyi later this summer and try to raise a late summer generation.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Critical time

Yesterday I had four males and four females, one newly emerged. Three of the males died, and the one female who had just emerged had a problem getting out of her pupal case. I tried to help by pulling off the pupal case, but I tore her abdomen and she started to leak hemolymph. She wasn't going to survive so I killed her quickly. Next time I'll know that I need to be much more gentle.

I still have had no couplings. I had heard that sometimes in enclosed spaces the males are so bombarded with female signal that they can't find her to mate. In these cases they either need to be put in a larger space to mate, which I can't do, or be hand paired. I found a youtube video about hand pairing moths, so I went and tried it with the remaining male and the three females. I could not get the male to couple with any of the females. I picked up one of the dead males and examined his reproductive parts. They looked different than the living male, so I looked at all of the other dead males, and they looked different than the living male too.

Right now I have some theories as to why I've yet to get a breeding pair to couple. First, the three dead males couldn't couple with the females because of the confined space. Then they died. Second, the living male has abnormal reproductive parts, or something, that is preventing him from coupling. It looked like he wanted to mate with the females (I tried them all with him) but he just could not get it done. I spent over an hour trying, so I was very patient but nothing happened.

So I'm kind of in trouble here with my moths. I just need one male and I'm in business. I have four cocoons left that have not emerged. If I get a male I'll try hand pairing again. I hope that one of the females lives long enough to get fertilized. If not I will have to start all over again with trying to import cocoons.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Boys... not so smart

So I now have three boys and a girl. None of them has been able to mate with the female.

I don't know what's going on, but I get the feeling that the boys are kinda dumb. The female sits still and even bends her abdomen towards them as they crawl on her, but none of them has been able to "seal the deal".

The clock is ticking. They better figure it out!


Friday, April 17, 2009

Hello, lady.

We have a pair!

This evening I had a female moth eclose. I was able to take a video of it, but I have to warn you that I let my two girls watch so they provided commentary during the process. They also kept bumping my arm that was holding the camera, so it's a bit shaky at times.


After her wings expand I will pair her with one of the males in a paper bag and wait for eggs. As far as worm food goes, my oak buds are getting bigger and greener each day, but I don't have real leaves. I'm trying not to panic about it just yet.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

We have moths!

One moth emerged from his cocoon yesterday, and one today. They are both boys, so lets get going ladies! I took a photo but haven't downloaded it yet. However, both moths look normal.

Now I just need my oak branches to get leaves. The buds are making progress, so I'm hoping to have tiny leaves in time for my tiny worms.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Damage control

I consulted with the silkworm rearers mailing list regarding my problem with the moldy cocoon. I got a lot of very good information and suggestions, and so have taken the following actions -

It's likely that 52 degrees F is too warm for A. pernyi to remain in diapause, so my pupae might develop and attempt to emerge from the cocoons. It's too late to put them at a colder temperature because if they've developed this might kill them. My best bet is to get them warmed up again and take them out of diapause, so I have all the cocoons in a warm room and separated by colony.

It's most likely that the moldy cocoon resulted from the dead moth inside, so for some reason the moth developed and then died. It's good to know what caused what - as in the death casued the mold and not the other way around.

Since there are no leaves on any trees, I'm attempting to force some oak branches to develop leaves sooner than they would normally. To do this I've cut some branches with buds on them and put them in the warm room in the bucket of water. I did this a few years ago and was able to get a few tiny leaves, which would be enough for me if I get a moth pairing and eggs before the trees outside fully leaf out for the spring.

If I can't force any leaves from my cut oak branches, some good folks from the list who live in southern states have offered to ship me fresh oak leaves. They say they have plenty of leaves down there now. I think this is fantastic, and really very nice of them. I hope I don't have to ask them to do it for me, but if I get desperate I might have to get some oak leaves Fed-Ex'ed to me.

Yeah, we bug people are kinda weird like that.

Anyway, I have five cocoons from colony B and six from colony C. There was one cocoon from colony C that had a dark end, so I snipped it off to see what it looked like inside. I saw what appeared to be a perfectly normal pupa butt. I poked at it a little but could not tell if it was moving or not. I decided to leave it alone and see what happens.

Worse case scenario - I won't have any moths or any pairings. Then it's back to trying to find a supplier.

Next time I'll know - 52 degrees is too warm for diapause!


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bad luck already

I haven't even taken my cocoons out of diapause, and I've already lost one.

I'd been keeping my cocoons in a wine cooler fridge at 52 degrees F, in narrow mouthed containers. The mouths of the containers are stuffed with batting that I'd wet every so often with water to keep a little bit of humidity in the containers. I was afriad that the fan on the cooler would dry them out, and I was also afraid to put them in an airtight container (even though I've heard of folks doing that).

Today when I checked on the cocoons I found one that was moldy. There was more condensation int he container than I would have liked, which can only mean that I wet the batting too much last time. I dried the rest of the cocoons and shook the extra water from the container.

Then I cut open the cocoon to see how the pupa was. Unfortunately, it was dead. It looked like a moth, so for some reason it had come out of its pupal case. This is not really a good sign, and now I'm worried that some of the others have come out of their pupal cases as well. I'm not sure why they would do this, since they shouldn't be developing at all at this temperature. However, the rest of the cocoons look fine, and when I shake then I can hear them rattling inside their cocoons. This leads me to believe that they are still inside the pupal cases like they should be, but I don't know for sure and I don't want to cut open the cocoons to find out. I guess I'll just have to wait.

Also, I'm wondering if the moth got moldy and then died, or died and then got moldy. So which came first, the mold or the death?

In any case, I feel like I need to get those cocoons out soon, but we don't have leaves on the trees here yet. Come on trees! Lets get going!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Cleaning up

I have to admit, I was really relieved when I was done feeding all those bugs. It was a lot of work! So when the last worm had spun I never cleaned up my insectary, or did anything with the cocoons other than put the selected few for next year in the chiller, and shove the others in the freezer. Today was the day that I finally cleaned everything up and started to prepare the cocoons for use.

First I took the cocoons out the the freezer and put them in the oven at 170 degrees for one hour. It ended up being over and hour because I didn't hear the timer. Oops. It doesn't look like the cocoons are damaged at all, so no worries. My goal here is to dry the pupae inside the cocoon so that the silk won't mold or smell bad. The cocoons have a definate smell, and I wish I could describe it. It's kind of musty and a little sweet at the same time. It's not really gross, but I'm not sure if I'd call it pleasant either. But if the pupae rots on the inside of the cocoon I'm sure it would smell much worse, so dried they will be.

The cocoons that I'm saving for next year went into my wine chiller set at 52 degrees. Since A. pernyi is a tropical species they could possibly end up sterile if they get too cold overwintering in the fridge. So I have this wine chiller that I can set at 52 degrees which should induce diapause and keep them safe until next spring. I didn't want to seal them in a container, but I also wanted to keep them from drying out, so I put them in plastic jars with cotton stuffed in the top. I've been keeping the cotton damp so that there is some humidity but hopefully not enough to mold the cocoons.

The next order of business was to pull everything out of the insectary and give it a thorough cleaning. All the equipment had to be bleached and set out to dry. It will be nice to have everything ready to go in the spring when I pull the cocoons out of the chiller.

While I wait out the long winter I will be reading books and getting more documentation on wild silkmoths if I can find any. I will also be attempting to reel some silk for the first time on my own. I took one class on it, but wasn't very successful. I now have much better information on how reeling should be accomplished, so I'll give it a try at some point over this winter.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Winding down

Things are coming to an end with my bug colonies. Colony A is all finished, and the return was pretty poor. I got eleven cocoons, and most of them are pretty poor quality. The walls of the cocoons are thin, so there is not much silk in them.

Notice that at the bottom of the picture there are pupae that did not spin cocoons. These bugs went through pupation without spinning. I got some of these in every colony. I also got some really neat pictures of the worms pupating outside of a cocoon.

To begin pupation,the worm gets short and fat and just lays on it's side, not eating or crawling. If poked they will do a little wiggle with their bottoms.

A few days later they will wiggle fiercely to get out of the worm skin. If they are in the cocoon this sounds very much like some animal caught in a paper bag trying to scratch it's way out. Right after the skin is shed the pupa looks very green and is soft. If you look closely at the head (the most green part) you can see the antennae and the wings closed around the body.

It only takes a few hours for the pupa to start turning brown and hardening on the outside. Here is a picture of the skin on the bottom, a green pupa in the middle, and a browned pupa on the top.

Like Colony A, Colony B is also finished and has no worms left. I got more cocoons out of it but not as many as I'd hoped. Seventeen complete cocoons and one cocoon that looks like a bowl. The worm in that one didn't complete the cocoon. The green worms on the bottom are not going to spin, and will just pupate with no cocoons.

Colony C, however, still has worms spinning. There are only about five worms left and at least one of them is fixing to spin right now. The was my best colony, and has gotten me 62 cocoons so far. Most are of a nice quality too.

I saved five cocoons from Colony B, and seven from Colony C. I kept each colony separate and put each in a wide mouthed container and stuffed the opening with cotton batting. I need to make sure that they get air, but don't dry out. Then I put the container in my cooling chamber at 52 degrees. That should be cool enough to activate diapause (overwintering) but not cold enough to make them sterile.

The rest of the cocoons and pupae went into the freezer. I'll just throw the pupae with no cocoons away, but the cocoons I'll take out at a later date and dry them.

I'm certain that the early disease had a large impact on the quality and number of cocoons that I got from each colony. Colony A was hardest hit and I got the most death and least cocoons from it. Colony C was the least effected, and it shows. Next time I will not try and raise that many worms at once. I'll start with one or two hundred eggs at the most. That should make it easier not to overcrowd them. It will also make it easier for me to get enough food for them. There were days where the back of my car was stuffed with large leafy branches that had to be put in buckets of water so they would stay fresh over night for the morning feeding. I'm really glad that's over!

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oh deer! We're spinning.

I've been meaning to write about this for awhile, but I just haven't had the chance. Here is a picture of my weeping mulberry.

A few weeks ago it was beautiful, completely leafed and full. Then one night the deer came by our yard and almost stripped it. I'm very glad that I didn't have any B. mori that I had to feed, or I'd have been in trouble, Next year I'm going to get netting on it early to protect the buds from the squirrels, and then I'll leave it on to keep the deer off of the leaves. Honestly, they could have eaten ANY of the other crappy shrubs that we have in our yard. Why pick on my mulberry!!??

In bug news, this morning I saw that I had two spinners. They had just started the beginnings of the cocoons, and by this evening they had completely enclosed themselves in silk.

I have one spinner each in colony A and B, and I think I have one starting in Colony C. I think I may have figured out a spinning structure for them. I took short sections of used oak twigs and tied them together in the middle to form bundles of twigs. I'm hoping the silkworms will crawl upwards out of the leaves to spin in the twigs. It would be much easier to raise these outside!

Something that I haven't mentioned is that the worms seem to prefer leaves from certain trees. I'm not great with identifying oak trees, but I'm pretty sure that the oak leaves I collect out at the farm are pin oaks. The worms will eat the pin oak, but they seem to far prefer the leaves from our church's oak tree out back, and the oak leaves from our neighbor's oak tree which I think are the same species. Compared to the pin oak the leaves are a much darker green and the leaves are not as skinny and spiky as pin oak leaves. I'll have to see if I can figure out what species the preferred trees are, because I think it's interesting that they have favorites within a species.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Infirmary

My worms are eating like crazy, and getting really big.

I still have fatalities in all Colonies, but they are mostly in Colony A. They seem to be bugs that haven't been through the final molt and are not showing signs of ever getting there. They are small and don't evacuate their bowels or vomit before they die. They just get stiff and die. It's nice that they don't spew bodily fluids or liquefy, because that tells me that it's probably not a nasty virus or bacterium. However, since I'm getting mostly deaths in Colony A and that's the colony that had the illness, I'm assuming the worms that survived were affected in some way. Most of them are doing just fine, so all I can do at this point is feed them well and keep them clean.

The deaths that I've had in the other two colonies seem to be worms that haven't molted completely, or are having issues molting. You can see on both of these guys the flaky skin and yellowish color. The looked bad enough that I pulled them out into The Infirmary to get them away from the other bugs in case they died.

Compare them to this nice healthy worm, whose skin is smooth and a nice green color.

The Infirmary is just another container that I have set up to put the sick looking bugs in. I put the sick worms on a paper towel just in case they evacuate their bowels or vomit before they die. Most of them seem to die, but at least they do it away from everyone else. I've had five or six that seem to recover and I've been able to put them back with the others when I'm sure they are doing well.

Right now I've got some interesting worms in The Infirmary. This one seems to have a rectal prolapse. I had one other worm do this and the next day it was just fine, so we'll see what happens to this little guy.

This one has a black foot. He seems to be eating and getting around okay, but I want to keep him segregated. I need to take some time and look up what this illness might be.

This poor worm has a rectal prolapse and a black foot! He's a big fella too.

Should be one more week until I get spinners! I can't wait!

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Picture Day

I took some time today to get some nice shots of the molting worms. All three colonies are in molt right now, and the large size of the worm makes it easier to get good photos. The younger worms look very similar to these as they are molting, except the color of the heads don't change as dramatically as the older worms do.

This worm is not ready to molt yet. Notice that the head looks dark and small compared to the body.

This worm has just molted, and the head is much bigger than in the last photo. The white head and face will darken over time. If you look closely you can just see very faint dots where the characteristic face freckles will show up when they darken. Also you can't really tell from this angle but the skin is very loose and baggy, giving the worm room to grow.

Here is a worm that has molted and enough time has passed that the head has darkened and the cute face freckles can be seen.

This shot shows the typical "prayer stance" that the worms adopt before they molt. The head is tucked down and the front legs are held up and together. If you look at the head you will see a cream-colored area right behind the face. This is the back part of the head peeking out because it is now too large for the head capsule. The worm will have to pop that head capsule off in order to molt and also to be able to eat again. When the head gets too big for the head capsule the mouthparts stop working, and so the molt begins.

Here is a shot of another worm waiting to molt. Worms that aren't molting will also take the prayer stance if they are disturbed.

Here are a line of worms waiting to molt.

Close up of two pre-molters.

Some worms spin short silk anchor threads before they molt. This helps them stay in place as they try to wiggle out of the old skin. It's best not to break these threads because an incompletely shed skin can cause major problems down the road for the worm. You can see the old skin hanging off the back of this worm.

This is a nice shot of the dark jagged mandibles of the worm. This worm has just molted so it's head is nice and light, creating a good contrast with the dark jaws.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Count update

Last night I counted colony B. Out of 273 eggs I have 194 worms. That makes a total of 553 worms from 800 eggs, which is 69%. I lose maybe one worm every other day, but they aren't sick. The dead ones that I find always seem to have had some sort of growth or molting issue. They are small and far behind the others in the colony, or have old shed skins stuck to them that they can't seem to get rid of.

Overall I'm really happy with how they look right now. They are fat, green, and very happy. Since the rearing containers have very good ventilation and I'm cleaning the containers and the room carefully and vigilantly, I seem to have eliminated the sickness issues.

I am concerned about what I'm going to do when they start to spin. When B. mori are ready to spin they turn kind of a translucent color and get sort of bloated and sluggish, so it was easy to watch the colony and separate the spinners from the eaters. These A. pernyi don't seem to change much in appearance. With my last batch the only reason I was able to tell which ones were going to spin is because I could tell that they had done a "gut dump". This is exactly how it sounds - the worm evacuates it's bowels before it spins so that it doesn't have to poop inside the cocoon. Makes sense, huh?

Anyway, it's important not to disturb the spinning worms. They can take a few days to complete the cocoon and if disturbed during the process they can stop spinning and never resume. They will still pupate and develop, just without spinning a complete cocoon. Since I'm after the silk I really don't want incomplete cocoons. Once some of the worms start to spin in one colony I'm going to have to figure out how I can clean the container without bothering the spinners. With my last few worms it was easy to separate them. This time it's going to be impossible.

If I can't clean as thoroughly as I'd like I'll need to lower the temperature and increase the airflow to try and lower my chances for disease. That's the best plan I have so far. I guess I'll have to just see how it goes. In ancient China these worms were raised outside on trees. I can see how that would be much easier to deal with. All the poop just falls to the ground, they find their own food, and they can spin in the leaves when they are ready. Of course they would also have to hope birds don't come by and have a snack. I'm sure those nice fat green worms would make a nice meal.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I must have been crazy...

.. to think that I could take care of this many bugs. They are eating like cows! Here is a picture of what they eat in a 24 hour period.

The bad news is that bringing all those oak leaves and branches into my house means that I'm also bringing in all sort of other little critters. There are assorted spiders, mites, other caterpillars, and the occasional juvenile praying mantis. I've been trying to catch them all and let them go, but the spiders mostly get away from me. Anything little that crawls off into the insectary seems to get getting caught by the spiders who have set up shop in the corners of the room. I'll have to do a thorough cleaning once all the spinning is completed.

The good news is that I have the sickness under control and have not had any more deaths. Colony A is beginning the last molt, and then the eating should bump up another notch. It's going to be a very busy next three weeks.

I did a bug count of colonies A and C tonight, and here how the numbers worked out -

Colony A - 259 eggs, 169 worms (43 died from the illness)
Colony C - 268 eggs, 190 worms.

I'll do a count on colony B tomorrow or the next day. Assuming the numbers are close I should have 500+ worms.

Man, that really makes me sound nuts. I will never again raise this many bugs at once. It's just too much!

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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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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cooling it

Things are moving right along with my silkworm breeding.

Right now I have 800 eggs from three pairings. My goal is to keep them separate so when I choose my cocoons to overwinter I can choose five or six from each brood. That way I can control inbreeding to some degree. I can't eliminate it, but I can try and minimize it as best I can.

Yesterday I removed the males and females from the paper bags and put them in a container. When I opened the first bag a lot of wing scales came billowing out, so I quickly closed the bag and got the vacuum cleaner. I turned it on and kept the nozzle very close to but not in the bag so that I could open the bag and not have scales floating all over in the air. The wing scales from some moths are very irritating to the lungs, and I don't need to have breathing issues because of this project.

I made sure to keep the moths that had already bred separate from the ones that have emerged but not bred, just in case I get any more emerging. The moths are all pretty beaten up from trying to fly around in the bags and containers. This is the best looking one and big hunks of wing are missing.

After I moved the moths I cut the paper bags up so that the clumps of eggs were on small sheets of paper. Then I arranged the paper strips in the bottom of petri dishes, labeling the broods A, B, and C. I had read that you should mist the eggs every third day, so I misted them yesterday.

However, I have a problem. The eggs are due to hatch while I'm at Pennsic. I have a theory that I should be able to cool the eggs to slow down their development so that they don't hatch until I get back. At the current temperature of 80 degrees in my insectary the last batch of eggs hatched in ten days. That would put these eggs hatching on August 5th. I leave on the 4th and get back on the 9th. I need these eggs to stay eggs for five more days.

When I heard that the cocoons should not overwinter in the fridge, I went searching for a small used fridge that I could just turn up high and get it around 55 degrees. But when I was searching online I found that they make small, inexpensive wine chillers that have a digital temperature controls that you can set between 65 and 40 degrees. The bad thing about these is they don't get colder than 20 degrees below the room temp. This is not an issue for me since I don't want it much colder than that. I was able to find a small chiller on sale for $60 so I grabbed it for overwintering cocoons. However, I'll be using it much sooner than that. As in right now!

I called the USDA entomologist to confirm that I could accomplish delaying egg hatching by cooling the eggs. He agreed that it would work, and said 60 degrees should do it. So right now my eggs are in petri dishes in the chiller at 60 degrees. I think I'm going to modify the shelves so I can put the dishes on the shelf and put a pan of water on the floor of the unit. There is a fan in the chiller and I'm afraid that the eggs will dry out if I don't keep the humidity up.

I'm trying to decide what to do from here. I just need them to be delayed five days. So, do I leave them in the chiller until I get back, or leave them in for another five days and then take them out before I leave and risk them hatching while I'm gone?

I'll probably take them out before I go and leave them some branches to eat if they hatch. I'm really hoping they don't hatch until I get back. Silly worms, you have bad timing! At least they are in a stage that I can control. If they had all hatched last week I'd be in a pickle since I can't take them to Pennsic and I can't leave them alone for five days.

So far no other moths have emerged, including my two from the first generation this spring. If I have no more moths tomorrow I'm going to stick them in the freezer. I can't have them emerging with nobody to take care of them. However, I really don't think I need any more eggs. 800 will be plenty!

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Moths everywhere

I've been a bit busy lately, so I've not had the time to post about all the moths that have emerged. I had two males emerge the day after the females, and both had paired by the next morning. I left them alone for 24 hours then transferred each pair into a separate brown paper bag. One pair stayed coupled while the other came apart. That was last night. This morning the coupled pair was still together, while the others were apart and the female had laid eggs.

Also last night I had two more males and another female emerge. This morning she had paired with one of the males. All of the emerged moths have been from the imported UK shipment. My two cocoons haven't done anything yet. I suspect they are males due to the size, but I'll just have to wait and see. I'll take more pictures when I get a chance.

I feel optimistic with so many pairs right now. This could be the turning point for this little project. Now I just need eggs to hatch and everything will be a go!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two ladies

Before I went to bed tonight I checked on my bugs and found these two lovely ladies waiting for me.

Now they just need a date or two. Come on gentlemen! Lets go!


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The UK bugs have arrived

Today I got my shipment of ten cocoons from the UK. I'm a little concerned that they are actually A. pernyi because the cocoons seem so much smaller than the last ones I got that were imported from China (via the UK also). These were raised in the UK so maybe something about their environment effected the size of the cocoons.

To avoid the same issue with the moths emerging and then flopping around on the floor of the emerging chamber in their meconium, I strung up the cocoons on a string inside the chamber. In medieval times they would string B. mori up like this to emerge and I have done that many times, so I hope this will work for A. pernyi too. Ideally you're supposed to hang them head facing up, but I couldn't tell which end was which so I strung them horizontally instead of vertically. I figure this would be better than hanging them upside down. They'll still be able to crawl out of the cocoon and rest on it as their wings expand.

Here they are in the chamber. The two on the far left are the two of mine that spun. The third and last worm died on Saturday. I just think he was too far behind.

While I was stringing them up one of them started to vibrate violently in my hand. It startled me, but gives me hope. It feels like one robust critter in there!

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Spinner #2

My second worm began spinning late last night. I did a 10 pm check and saw that she (I hope it's a she) had dumped her gut so I knew she was going to spin. I put her in a separate container so she could spin in a smaller space. This morning I see that there is the makings of a cocoon.

Two down and one to go. I hope the last one actually makes it to spin, but it's kind of far behind in it's development. We'll just have to see I guess.

Still no bugs from the UK yet. I hope to get word that he is sending them soon!


Sunday, June 29, 2008


My largest worm has begun to spin. Here is how he (or she) looks next to the smallest worm.

And here is a short movie of the big one munching away a few days ago.


Finally, here is the video of how I found the spinning worm last night. He had just dumped his gut and was beginning to spin. I decided to move him to another container in a paper towel roll even though I was afraid that if I disturbed him he might stop spinning. However this morning he's spinning inside the tube so I think I'm okay.


Hopefully the other two will start in a few days, even though I really think the little one needs some more time to grow before he spins.

I'm anxious to get my new batch of cocoons. The guy sending them said he might be able to send ten instead of just seven, which would be awesome! I'm still waiting to hear form him though.


Friday, June 27, 2008

New additions on the way

My worms are getting quite big now, but nobody is looking like they want to spin yet. I was starting to think that this project was never going to get off the ground, since I only had three worms (one is not looking that great at the moment), all of them from the same female. However, I was lucky enough to find seven A. pernyi cocoons on eBay, and I won the auction. I consulted with USDA and found that my permit would allow me to import another ten cocoons. Yay!

The seller of the cocoons said that he collected the parental generation in the wild, so the genetic diversity should be great (the USDA entomologist confirmed that my problems were likely due to excessive inbreeding). He also said that he might be able to sell me ten cocoons, and that he expects the cocoons to go into diapause. I found this odd because this moth should have two generations a year. When I spoke to the UDSA entomologist he agreed, and suggested that when I get the cocoons I should keep them at 55 degrees for two weeks. This will induce diapause for certain, and then I can break the diapause by bringing them back out into the 80 degree insectary.

I now also have concerns that the cocoons from brood #1 were not handled properly. The USDA entomologist also said that refrigerator temperatures (usually around 40 degrees F) are too cold for this species, because they are subtropical. The seller of the first cocoons told me that he had them in the fridge prior to shipping them to me, and told me that I could put them back in the fridge until I needed them. Which I did. Well, that could be part of the problem right there.

I'm trying to decide if I want to try and breed the worms that I have now, or if I just want to go with the new ones. I feel like I don't want to waste the old ones, but with all the problems that I've had with brood #1 I might just want to start fresh and go with the new ones. Although my issues might have been from the temperature issue and not inbreeding. I'll never know for sure.

Either way, this project just might be in business again.


Friday, June 13, 2008

And then there were three

On June 5th I noticed that the smallest worm had a very dark face. Usually their faces are tan with cute little brown freckles. This little guys face was almost black, so I decided that I'd isolate him in a small container. The next day, he was dead in a small puddle of goo.

I was glad that I isolated him. The other three are still going strong and look great. Nobody looks close to spinning yet. They're really starting to power through the leaves!