Friday, 15 May 2015

The Cro-Magnon Silkworm Invaders

Silk farming for all these years, you get used to normal caterpillar behaviour.

Something is weird with this current batch of silkworms. The eggs were in my walk-in closet and when I stepped in a few weeks back there were thousands of little black silkworms looking for mulberry amongst old watches, unused foreign currency, expired passports and some gift sake cups I'd forgotten to get in the mail.

I brushed them with a feather onto some white paper to keep an eye on them until I found some mulberry leaves. They all looked uniformly hungry and pleased to be off the shelf.

I had bred a dozen or so moths for this spring (2015) last summer before I left for New York. While I was away last summer Hiro found some silk moths walking around on some paper and laying eggs.

He was proud of his rescue mission and I put those eggs in with the ones I had carefully chosen from good cocoons and chrysalis and moths and bred under fairly perfect sterilised conditions.

The silkworms this time around are not all behaving as they should. I noticed a few kuwako, the wild silkworms that occasionally come in on the mulberry from the field.

Then I noticed a few more. They walk around and stand on their simpler brothers and sister's heads and behave in other cheeky ways.  Climbing up the walls and running across leaves.

Something the gentrified amongst them just throw shade at.

Now I can see a good portion of my silkworms this year are these slinky Cro-Magnon types.

I am guessing that a wild stealthy silkworm moth flew into the house through an open window last summer (The moths can fly, unlike their snooty homebody Bombyx Mori distant kinmoth.) and had a good hearty romp with a welcoming trophy moth.

I imagine a black-backed-wagtail swooping down and making dinner out of him as he was 'kiss-and-telling' to his buddies flitting around the light bulb.

Insect karma.

I wrote this related blog five years ago:

Silkworms have been bred for docility as well as the quality of the silk over thousands of years. The modern hybrids won't walk more than a few centimetres to find food. If the mulberry isn't directly overhead or right beside them they would starve before going foraging for themselves. It would be just to much trouble to raise a lot of wander lusting silkworms hiding in all corners of the house. They have to stay in place. Like foot-binding the ancient Chinese were very good with limiting mobility for convenience sake. The urge to walk was simply bred out.

There is still a variety of wild silkworm closely related to his/her contemporary cousins. They are called kuwako locally. They seem Cro-Magnon like. Stockier with a large brow. Slightly hairier.

Almost always found solitary, disinterestedly nibbling on leaf..... they seem to have been cast out from all the games the other reindeer play.

You can find them occasionally on the back of mulberry leaves brought home to feed their domesticated relatives . I've tried to keep the wild ones from straying, tempting them with the freshest choice mulberry I can find. Alas, they are a free spirited variety and need to roam. So they end up on the mulberryless ceiling or squashed on the floor. I found this sexy pre-historic one on the leaves last night and is now relocated to the dozens of saplings in front of the house. I hope it hangs around long enough to make a cocoon.

You can find their thin beige-coloured cocoons in the dead of winter clinging to the bare branches of the sleeping mulberry.  A small hole on the top of the cocoon to show that no one is home and the occupant flew off as a moth months before.

Just for reference here is a photo of his modern cousins.


  1. maybe this year your caterpillar doings will be more interesting...i wonder what the cocoons will be like, always supposing you can keep some of the cro-magnans corralled.

  2. Never a dull moment at your house. Good luck with the wild ones. Will be interesting to see the silk they produce.

  3. bet the cro mans make great silk.