Saturday, January 17, 2009

Into the moult

Silkworms, I have noticed, seem to have two sets of legs: six insect legs on their front segments and then eight, more-rudimentary ones on the segments further back. (Added later: I have since discovered that the legs on the front are thoracic ('real' insect legs) on the thorax; while the ones at the back are prolegs ending in suction caps called crochets. These are on the abdomen).

I clean them out every day, removing their tiny black walnut-shaped droppings and the food they haven't deigned to eat. This is to prevent mould, which is dangerous to silkworms.

Their food comes in plastic tubs and has the consistency of butter. It is supposed to be grated into their home, but really it is too soft for that. I usually end up with a few small pieces and hope that will do. I think it does, because if I listen carefully I can hear my silkworms eating. It is a contented munching sort of sound - and I think that if I could amplify this it would be quite relaxing.

Quite often they stop moving altogether and sit with their heads in the air. They are the texture of a creamy limestone and look so much like statues of themselves that I have been tempted to prod them to make sure they are not dead. However, I have just read on a website that this means they are getting ready to moult. One of them - the small pale one in the centre right of this picture is doing that now. His head seems to have changed a little too - his eyes are protruding and yellow. At least I assume they are eyes. (Added later: these are fake eyes. The real eyes are smaller and below the fake eyes).

Now a moulting silkworm should not be touched and I feel I am a little like a midwife or an expectant father, wondering what will happen next. I suppose, like all metamorphosing creatures, the silkworm is bristling with stem cells. Somewhere, perhaps on the inner layers of the old skin, there are cells reproducing and becoming something else as they mature and are bombarded with chemical messages: a part of a wrinkle or pigment, grow a bristle or a pore. After a few days a new silk worm will appear - his skin a little tender and vulnerable but otherwise just as perfect as he used to be - part of the series of little miracles which turns the egg into the moth.

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Blogger Debra Hamel said...

I guess this means you never really have the urge to just step on them.

Sat Jan 17, 01:30:00 pm  
Blogger BarbaraS said...

I didn't know they had legs; that makes them like caterpillars then... see all this stuff I didn't know before? Thanks to you :)

Sat Jan 17, 01:37:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I am finding out a huge amount too, Barbara! It's so interesting - and so easy for me to lose myself on the internet.

Debra - urgh, how could you? That's little Amy-Lou, Sammy-Jane and Eustace you're talking about there, my beloved pets! (Not that that is going to stop me 'quenching' them in some hot water when they've finished making their cocoons...evil cackle).

Sat Jan 17, 05:16:00 pm  
Blogger Debra Hamel said...

Really? Why will you be quenching them?

Sat Jan 17, 05:17:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Well, I won't be quenching all of them - just some of them, I hope, if I manage to get that far with them. Some I'll let hatch out into moths, mate and lay eggs. However, if I want to unravel some silk in one continuous thread I have to quench the pupa, otherwise it will eat a big hole in the silk and break the thread into pieces.

This silk worm business is so interesting! I have spent the whole day reading about them!

Sat Jan 17, 05:28:00 pm  
Blogger Debra Hamel said...

Wow. You're amazing. This is going to be very interesting to watch from afar.

Sat Jan 17, 10:11:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

:-))) But thank you, Debra - here's hoping that I don't manage to kill them all first!

Mon Jan 19, 02:00:00 pm  
Blogger jem said...

Great stuff. I should have read on before posting my facial features question in the last post.

I'm not sure about that munching sound though. I once shared a flat with a girl who had a giant snail and you could hear it gnawing and I found it a bit unnerving.

Do your silkies behave any differently at night or daytime?

Tue Jan 20, 11:43:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Jem: Yes, I understand completely about giant snails making too much noise when they're gnawing. It is a problem I have to put up with very frequently!

And thank you for the term 'silkie' I intend to adopt it forthwith...

Tue Jan 20, 10:48:00 pm  
Blogger Debra Hamel said...

You may not be aware that the girls' last name, well, 1. is different from mine and 2. is Seidemann and 3. means "silk man." Hence a friend referred to one of our daughters in utero as "Silkie." Also, I've decided that should they form a musical duet a la Aly and A.J. they should be known simply as "Silk."

Tue Jan 20, 10:55:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

mmm - that's a rather good name for a musical duet. I imagine them playing in some fashionable bar somewhere - lustrous, soft and very, very smooth.

Tue Jan 20, 11:03:00 pm  

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