Silkworms at Kids College Childcare
At Kids College we are very happy to have some silkworms. Silkworms are amazing little creatures with a fascinating lice cycle. Children watch the silkworms go from tiny little black worms to big fat white worms, making their cocoon and then finally emerging as a silk moth. Over the next two months keep an eye out for all the wonderful changes as our silkworms grow and develop. Silkworms are an ideal animal to keep. They only live in July, August and September, are easy to keep and feed and offer a unique opportunity to bring the process of change to life in front of the children.
What are silkworms?
Silkworms are tiny worms that spin their own silk cocoons. The scientific name for silkworms is Bombyx mori, which means “silkworm of the mulberry tree.” They have been raised to produce fabric for thousands of years and can no longer be found in the wild.
Silkworms begin as wormlike larvae with the three distinct body parts of an insect. After spending time in a cocoon, the silkworm morphs into a scaly, four-winged moth.
Silkworms eat the leaves of the mulberry tree or can exist on an artificial diet. They also eat the leaves of the tree known as the Tree of Heaven.
Silkworms now depend on silk producers, laboratories and schoolchildren to propagate the species. In their domestication, the moths lost the ability to fly, so wild populations no longer exist.
To find out more about silkworms go to https://everythingsilkworms.com.au/silkworms/life-cycle-of-a-silkworm/
Benefits of keeping silkworms for the children
Growing silkworms is a wonderful opportunity to teach children a wide range of life skills through interaction with living creatures. Silkworms can be a great tool to teach children about the life cycle, insect behaviour and anatomy, and how to care and interact with living creatures.
Silkworms can help show children that their love and care for the insects can help them grow and thrive. These nurturing connections teach children that using kindness and care can benefit those around them, establishing empathy and compassion. If children develop love for animals and nature, they will grow up with respect and care for the world around them, as well as empathy and care for other human beings.
Exploring and playing with silkworms allows children to feel, see, touch, and make connections to the animal world. This is especially important for the children that have little exposure to nature or animals in their homes. Observing and caring for silkworms helps instil a sense of responsibility.
While caring for silkworms, children learn to explore, infer, predict, and hypothesise in order to develop an increased understanding of the interdependence between land, people, plants and animals.
The lifecycle of a silkworm
Kids College children are enjoying watching the lifecycle of our silkworms. The total life cycle of a Silkworm ranges from 6-8 weeks. Generally, the warmer the weather, the quicker the Silkworm will complete its life cycle, however, other factors such as humidity and exposure to sunlight are also very important. Ideally, Silkworms will experience 12 hours of sunlight, and 12 hours of darkness per day, a temperature of 23-28 degrees Celsius, as well as humidity levels of 85-90%. Eggs should hatch in a period of 7-10 days.
Silkworm eggs hatch
Kids College silkworm eggs hatched after 10-12 days on the 3rd and 4th of August 2021. They will live as caterpillars for 26 to 32 days.
In Australia, a Silkworm will naturally hatch in late July to early August – depending on the weather where you live – this time amazingly coincides with the Mulberry Tree regaining its leaves after the tree loses them in Winter. When placed in a cold area, you can control when your eggs hatch, therefore ensuring they will always have a food source. If your eggs have been placed in the fridge, they will begin developing and hatch, depending on the warmth of the weather, with warmer weather causing quicker hatching.
Silkworms spin a cocoon
Kids College silkworms are getting bigger and they go into a cocoon after around 28-32 days around the 29 August- till 2cnd of September 2021
After 28-32 days of constantly munching away at Mulberry leaves, your Silkworm will feel the urge to cocoon. Cocooning usually takes up to three days to complete. Lava that are ready to cocoon will be noticeable to the human eye, as they will appear translucent and yellowish in colour. Just before it begins cocooning, the Silkworm will excrete a runny fluid in order to clean out its system and prepare it for the last stage of its life-cycle. It will then ooze a tiny drop of Silk for anchoring, before going on to draw one long, continuous filament of Silk by swinging its head to-and-fro. This process can take up to 48 hours for the Silkworm to fully complete, and the result will be a perfectly ovate cocoon, with one continuous strand of silk up to 1 kilometre long! Inside the cocoon, the Silkworm will moult for the last time, as it approaches the last stage of its life-cycle to become a moth.
Silkworm moths emerge from their cocoons
Our Kids College Moths emerge after 14-18 days in their cocoons our months should emerge around the 14-21 September 2021.
After14-18 days of developing into a moth in its cocoon, the Silk-Moth will appear from the cocoon and will excrete a brownish fluid upon emergence – don’t worry, this is completely normal, and is a sign the Silk Moth is cleaning out its system.
Silk-Moths cannot fly, as a result of thousands of years of domestication, however male Silk-Moths may leave their container/shoebox as they search for a female mate. It is quite easy to separate the male and female Silk-Moths, with the females having larger abdomens and males possessing smaller abdomens. Males also tend to be more active, as they are constantly searching for a mate.
A new generation of silkworms
Our Kids College Moths live for 2 weeks, mate and lay eggs for a new generation of silkworms
The moth lives a very brief life of 14 days, with males generally living longer than females. Silk-Moths will begin to search for a mate almost immediately after emerging from their cocoon, with some seen mating with a moth of the opposite sex inside their cocoon should two moths share one! After mating, the Female Moth will lay between 300-500 eggs, and die, whereas the male Silk-Moth will search for another mate, should it not be too old.
When silkmoths die
We as adults tend to want to shield our children from the realities of a pet’s death. However, these experiences are central to building our children’s resilience.
Discussing the loss of a pet slowly builds an ability to cope with big emotions. A child’s brain does not have the mental maturity of adults and we need to help them build their skills and manage their feelings. These skills need to be taught and we specialise in social emotional learning at Kids College actively working each day to help children in one of the most important learning areas.
Our amazing Kids College silkworms
The children observed the silkworms hatching out of their little eggs as tiny 4mm long black caterpillars. The children used magnifying glasses to explore the little creatures, and we started to feed our pets with mulberry tree leaves. The children have learned about the silkworm’s food and helped teacher Vera feed them with leaves.
Our silkworms were very well looked after and started to grow and develop. The children observed all the changes and learned about the silkworm life cycle through their own observations as well as pictures, photos and educational videos on the big screen.
The children have learned about the silkworms shedding their skin four times during their growth and they could see and explore the old skin that had been left by the silkworms. Many children were brave enough to touch and feel the silkworms at different stages of their development. We would put the leaves with the caterpillars on the back of the children’s hands, and the children expressed lots of positive emotions whilst connecting with the creatures.
Over the four weeks, our silkworms grew as big as 5-7cm long caterpillars and they started to make their cocoons. We put each caterpillar in their own cardboard roll to make sure they had enough space to spin their cocoons.
Our recycling program: while looking after our silkworms, we used many recycled cardboard rolls as well as recycled cardboard boxes (for silk moths to lay eggs)
The children could observe how the silkworms were making their cocoons and then explore the cocoons with their fingers. (We used the cocoons from last year for the children to touch and feel them)
Our silkworms stayed in the cocoons for about 2-3 weeks and then hatched out as silk moths. We transferred them into cardboard boxes where they were mating and laying eggs. The children enjoyed watching the moths and many children liked playing with them by putting them on their arms, legs, t-shirts or tummies; touching and feeling them with their fingers. Then the children could observe the eggs on the walls of the boxes.
During our project of growing the silkworms, we provided many different activities for the children to help them learn more about those interesting creatures.
The children were also learning about silk and they had an opportunity to explore silk hankies, silk fibres, silk threads and silk fabrics and participate in many learning experience with silk.
Our learning experiences
- -Books, stories, songs, felt board pieces, magnetic board pictures and puppet play about caterpillars and other insects
- -Big group circle games and races such as:
- Let’s help a caterpillar make a cocoon
- Caterpillar crawl obstacle course
- Who is hiding in the cocoon?
- Let’s make a giant cocoon
- Butterfly number game,
- Kimochis Bug- learning about emotions of change with the help of our friend- BUG
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar story
- -Art and craft experiences: a web (Using a real cocoon and silk fibres to make a colourful collage); spotty butterfly- bubble wrap painting on the butterfly cut outs and others.
- -Felting project- we used some beautiful silk fibres in our felting project when making a frog puppet by wet felting technique
The description of all the activities along with the photos can be found in the programs, daily sheets and the children’s learning stories.
Kids College families loved the silkworms
Many families showed great interest in our silkworm project. Some parents would ask to show them the silkworms, cocoons and moths at their drop off and pick up times. They expressed wonder when watching the creatures and also were very happy that their children had an excellent opportunity to participate in the project and learn a lot about silkworms.
We shared the information about our silkworms with everyone who might be interested in through our programs, photos, daily sheets, children’s learning stories and FACEBOOK as well.
We suggested that we could share our silkworm eggs with people who might be interested in raising silkworms with their children at home, at schools and child care centres.
How to care for Silkworms
Storing your Silkworm Eggs
The eggs initially appear yellow, however after a few days, those eggs that are fertile will turn blue/black. These eggs however, will not be ready to hatch. In order to hatch, they will need to go through a cold period first. In nature, this cold period is Winter – however as you can raise Silkworms at any stage of the year these days – thanks to Silkworm Chow and heating – Winter may not necessarily be around the corner! To simulate this, place your eggs in a fridge (for at least 3 months, and no longer than a year). NOT IN A FREEZER! They can be stored in a plastic container in the fridge. After this time period, your eggs will be ready to hatch!
Note: Once eggs have been refrigerated – and taken out – you CAN NOT put them back in the fridge – as they will already have begun their process of hatching – and this will kill them.
Normally, I take the eggs out of the fridge in the middle of July. Mulberry trees will only grow leaves starting at the end of July.
The eggs will start hatching in 1-3 weeks after being taken out of the fridge (beginning of August). They have to be kept at the room temperature, not at the direct sunlight (warm, but not hot). They have to be placed in a shoe box, or plastic container (you don’t have to have a lid for the container as they won’t crawl out). It’s better to place the eggs onto a paper towel- easy to clean.
When your silkworms hatch, they are only 4mm long black caterpillars (so, look carefully). Start feeding them with small mulberry leaves- just put a few leaves on top of them- they will all crawl onto the leaves.
As they become to grow, they will need more and more leaves and should be fed a few times during the day. It’s easy just to put some fresh leaves on top of the silkworms, they will crawl onto the leaves. The last (4thweek) is the hardest as they eat A LOT!!! And they do lots of poos- the size of peppercorns.
They only eat mulberry leaves. All other leaves will kill them. It’s better to have fresh leaves, but leaves can be kept in the fridge in the zip-lock plastic bags or containers for about a week.
Here you can find where wild mulberry trees grow around Perth:
“Urban Tucker” – Map of wild food growing in the Perth Metro area.
NO WATER! And leaves should be dry.
Rearing Silkworms on Silkworm Chow instead of Mulberry Leaves is becoming a more-and-more common option amongst those raising Silkworms. The process of doing so is not so different – apart from having to mix the food upon your purchase, and storing it in a fridge as opposed to picking leaves. Although Silkworm Chow is not as nutritious as feeding Silkworms Mulberry Leaves, for many it is a much more practical option – as Mulberry Trees are quite hard to come by – especially in urban Australia. It must also be noted that the difference in worms raised on Chow is not noticeable to many – with the main difference coming from the quality of Silk produced – a factor only those few raising Silkworms for the purpose of their Silk care about. Regarding the method in which to feed Silkworms Chow, we recommend that you feed them slices of the food – as opposed to a whole block – as this allows for a greater surface area for your worms to feed on – reducing crowding in the feeding area and in turn the likelihood of an outbreak of disease. Upon your purchase of Silkworm Chow however, you will be provided with further instructions as to how to best use the food source.
As the Silkworms increase in size make sure you spread them out, so they can live comfortably and with a decreased chance of contracting diseases. Silkworms, just like humans are susceptible to diseases – so make sure you are removing their frass (droppings) each day. This processed is referred to as “bed cleaning”.
Cleaning is very important to make sure your silkworms stay healthy- remove old paper towel, old leaves and all droppings.
Moulting– silkworms shed their skin about 4 times during their growth. When moulting, they stop eating for a few hours and freeze with their heads up. At these times they need less leaves.
The silkworms will grow to about 5-7 cm long. In about 28-32 days (4 weeks) after hatching they will be ready to start spinning their cocoons. They have to be transferred into cardboard rolls – toilet rolls or paper towel rolls cut in half (one silkworm in each roll), placed vertically in the container; or egg cartons, or just provide some branches/sticks, etc.
Signs- to know when your silkworm is ready to cocooning:
-4 weeks old, gets a bit yellow in colour
-Moves away from others, to the side of the container, starts crawling up on the wall of the container
-Stays in vertical position, freezes
-Starts moving their head around
-Has a silk thread coming out of its mouth
Silkworms spend 3 days to spin their cocoons, working without stopping. DO NOT disturb them at this time– as they might stop spinning, fall down on the bottom of the container and die.
They will stay in the cocoons 14-18 days after completing them.
When silk moths start hatching- transfer them into a cardboard box. There will be males (smaller and more active) and females (bigger and slower), and they will start mating straight away.
Moths don’t need to be fed. No food, no drinks. They mate and lay eggs on the walls of the box. Silk moths don’t fly, they stay inside the box., but they might crawl out of the box, so it’s better to cover the box with a lid, or gauze, or any breathable cloth.
Silk moths will live for 10 – 14 days, then they will die. You can cut the box in small pieces and keep the eggs in the fridge for next year (when the eggs become black)
Cocoons– when silk moths hatch out of the cocoons- they leave their brown dry skin inside the cocoons- it can be removed.
Raising silkworms is an excellent experience for children (and adults as well) Enjoy!
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With love, laughter and learning from your friends in the
‘village it takes to raise a child’
Teacher Jen and the Kids College Childcare family