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Return of the Silkmoth

Well, not really a return exactly.

Today I needed to use my iron, that I haven’t used in a few months. Yes, really. It sits on top of a bookshelf above where I kept the silkworms when they were spinning their cocoons. Inside of and attached to the wrapped up iron cord I found a cocoon. So that means a caterpillar climbed up out of its box, and to the top of this (admittedly kind of short) bookcase.

It has a hole in it, telling me that somewhere, maybe behind the bookcase, is a dead moth too. It never ends, I tell you.

P.S. The photo is a reenactment, as I unwound the cord before I realized a cocoon was attached to it.

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Silkmoths – Year 2

We enjoyed raising our silkworms last year so much that we’re doing it again this year. Even better, we are using the eggs that our very own moths laid last fall!

Or, at least I thought it was better. Now it looks like I may not have stored them in the ideal way. While our moths laid way more than the 250 eggs we ordered last year, it looks like, at best, only a couple dozen caterpillars have hatched. I guess that ain’t nothing, but I’m still kinda disappointed. Looks like it’s time for even more research, so I know how to handle our eggs even better for next time.

I’ve kept the rest of the eggs so far, but they look very dried and sunken, so I’m not hopeful that any more will hatch this year. Almost all of them were the good, black color of fertile silkmoth eggs, but just having fertile eggs appears not to be enough.

Unfortunately, my camera seems to be in it’s twilight of life, and I can’t get a focused picture of the new silkworms or the non-hatched eggs to share, but maybe I can sweet talk my husband into taking some photos for me with his snazzy camera later on to show off.

As a refresher, for anyone who cares, here are my posts from last years silkworm adventures (so far our silkworms look like the ones from the second link:

Silkworms, Day 1
Silkworms, Day 8
Silkworms, Day 15
Silkworms, Day36
Silkworms, Day38
And Then There Were Two – Silkworms, Day 51
Silkworms, Day56 – Silkmoths!

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What the Silkmoths and I are up to. . .

A few dozen of the silkmoths are still wandering around their box, done laying eggs, wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. I can sympathize a little. Most have passed on, and around 15 cocoons still haven’t hatched yet. Is hatched the right word? It feels like the right word, but it’s not quite the same as an egg. The cocoon has hatched: the silkmoth has emerged. That’s the terminology that sounds good to me.

Anyhow, of the cocoons that haven’t hatched yet, 4 of them look like bad cocoons to me, and I’m suspicious that they may not ever do anything. By ‘bad’ I mean, they don’t look like the other cocoons: they’re shaped strange, or feel soft instead of hard, and then there’s that one that is see through as it was never completed.

I’m not really sure how long to wait on these last cocoons before deciding that the moths will never emerge from them, but I suppose there’s no downside to waiting it out a little longer. After a nice long wait, if there are still several unhatched cocoons, I may try the silk reeling method used when the cocoons are stifled (that’s the nice way of saying the larva is killed.) Once I’m sure no moth will ever come out, I’ll give that method a try, but not just yet. So many of the caterpillars started spinning late, I feel better giving them a little more time.

In my research about silkmoth lifespan, I found two estimates: 3 to 5 days, and up to a week. From our little group, I’d agree more with the second. From the time our first silkmoths began emerging from their cocoons, to the first dead moth I found, it was a week at the very least. I sort of expected them to not last more then a day or so after egg laying, but they’ve all hung around quite awhile. I’m not real happy with the box I’m housing them in. They’ve kinda beaten themselves up flapping around and trying to hook up into pairs. Wormspit.com recommends separating them into pairs, then isolating the pairs and that’s what I’m going to do next year. Hopefully they’ll not bang themselves up so much that way, and the eggs should be easier to clean up.

That’s what the silkmoths are up to, as for me, I’ve started a new short story. I felt a little guilty about it since I still haven’t worked much on my novel, but I got an idea that I was excited about. I’m doing way more writing on it than I was on my novel, so it’s hard to argue with progress. I’m toying with the idea of taking a writing class, probably online, but trying to decide what type of class I’d like the best (and when I’m going to fit it into my schedule).

My sewing machine is sitting covered, and hasn’t seen the light in months, although I have almost as many projects I want to sew as I have story ideas. Last month I thought that when summer came, I’d have all this free time to do my writing and sewing. Why isn’t that working out?

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I’m Learning To Handspin Silk

I really goofed up.

Here I was, with a bunch of hatched silk cocoons. I’d found good instructions for cleaning and de-gumming the cocoons, and was excited to try spinning the silk. I treated the silk like wool, and carded it in preparation for spinning.

Don’t do that.

It was clear to me right away as I was carding the silk that something wasn’t right. When I spun, the results were lumpy, irregular and just not pretty. So I consulted my good friend Google (as I probably should have done in the first place.)

Wormspit.com came to my rescue again, with the best instructions I’ve found for preparing hatched silk moth cocoons for hand-spinning. Another nice resource when it comes to actually spinning the silk is this article on Knitty.

You can see in my photo, the yarn on the right was my first attempt to spin the silk, and to the left was my second try, after my research. Probably still not the best silk spinning ever, but a huge improvement, if I do say so myself!

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Silkworms, Day 56 – Silkmoths!

There she is! (At least I think it’s a she from the books. . .) I woke up this morning and found this little moth sitting in the cocoon box. So cute! But a lot smaller than I thought she’d be. Most of the photos are so zoomed in and blown up, I thought she’d be bigger.

I looked up about that red liquid you can see in the foreground. Silkmoth pee. She also squirted some sort of tan liquid on me when I picked her up to move her off the cocoon and onto a paper roll. Don’t know if that was more pee, or the pheromones I’ve read about, but it sure came out in a violent jet!

I’ve decided this these are the biggest and smallest cocoons in our set. I’m still amazed with how different they are in size, but almost all the others are just a little smaller than the big one. These are really the unusual ones.

As I was searching for the big and small cocoons, a second moth emerged. Here you can compare how they look fresh out of the cocoon, with their little smooshed, wet wings, compared to the one that had been out for hours already.

As a sort of sad follow up to the last silkworm post, one of those two straggler caterpillars died later that day. The other finally started spinning his cocoon, but didn’t complete it. I suspect he’s dead inside the partial cocoon he started, but I haven’t been motivated to investigate inside it to make sure.