For 5,000 years, silk moths have been a primary source for raw silk. Recently, adult silk moths and silk moth larvae — silkworms — have become a healthy food source for many pet reptiles. Raising silk moths for their silk or for food is a fairly simple process. Silk moths go through four life stages — egg, larvae, pupae and adults.
In the middle of summer, a female silkworm moth will lay 200 to 500 golden-yellow eggs. If the eggs are fertile, they will turn black after three days, otherwise, they will turn white. Place the fertile eggs in the refrigerator to stimulate a ‘winter’ period, which will increase the hatch rate. After a month, remove the eggs and place about 200 eggs and a damp paper towel in a petri dish. Using an incubator, maintain the eggs at 78 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, and they will hatch in seven to 20 days. A few days before the eggs will hatch, they will start to turn a light blue-gray color.
Feeding Newly Hatched Larvae
Leave the newly hatched silkworms in the incubator for 7 to 14 days. While they’re still in the petri dish, provide a commercially prepared silkworm diet or fresh mulberry leaves. If you’re offering a commercial diet, change the food every eight hours; if you’re offering fresh leaves, change them twice a day. After a couple of weeks, move the silkworm larvae out of the incubator and into a larger setup.
Caring for Silkworm Larvae
Maintain the new setup between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. When the silkworms are about 1 inch long, add paper towel tubes or a wire grate to the setup. Stand the tubes up, or place the wire grate vertically, so they can climb. Silkworms are hardy feeders, so provide fresh food daily; remove uneaten food so it doesn’t mold. At any time in this stage, you can offer silkworms to your reptiles — but if you hold a handful back, they will continue to eat and grow until they morph into moths, enabling you to create a steady supply for your pets.
Larvae Develop Into Moths
Those silkworms that you hold back to raise will grow up to 10,000 times their hatchling size by the time they are 30 days old. Around this time, they will stop eating and start to turn a yellowish color before they weave their silk cocoons. While in their cocoons, silkworms shed their skin and become pupae. After about three weeks, they emerge as silk moths. Silk moths cannot fly, and they don’t eat or drink. The moths will mate, lay eggs and die in about five days. Before the moths die, you can feed them to your reptiles; many day geckos, lizards and chameleons will love a chance to eat moths. They shouldn’t be a staple in the diet, as the moths are not as nutritious as the larvae. But they make great treats.
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