The Silkworm And Its Products 394

The Silkworm And Its Products. The Silkworm is the caterpillar of one of the family Bombycide, systematically known by the name of Bombyx Mori. The eggs are globular, and about the size of mignionette-seed ; The good ones are of a pale slate or ash colour; whilst the imperfect ones are of a light yellow tint. The moth is of a light cream colour, with transverse bands of a darker tint on the anterior wings, and a crescent-shaped central mark ; the body, which is encircled by rings of a darker tinge, is covered, as are also the wings, with long velvety feathers, giving a particularly soft, thick, and warm look to the insect; the antennae are also thickly feathered. The eggs are hatched in the spring, simultaneously with the bursting into leaf of the mulberry-trees, upon which they live, and the little worm immediately commences eating the young leaves which are placed for its nourishment. It is about eight weeks in arriving at maturity, and during that period changes its skin at four or five different moultings. When about to cast, its skin it ceases to eat for some length of time, and exists in a state of perfect repose or stupor, with the forepart of the body slightly raised. It remains in this torpid condition a sufficient time for the new skin, which is now forming, to become Sufficiently mature and strong to enable the caterpillar to burst through the old one. As soon as the moulting is over, and the Caterpillar has recovered from the exhaustion which its efforts have produced, it commences eating voraciously and increases in size very rapidly.

The silkworm when full grown measures about three inches in length, and is at first of a slate colour; but as it increases in size it becomes paler, until at maturity it arrives at nearly the same tint as the moth itself. When it has arrived at this state, about ten days after the last moulting, the caterpillar me convenient spot for the spinning of its web or cocoon. The silk is elaborated in two long tubular vessels lying on either side of the stomach and intestines, and terminating in a single tube opening in the lower lip of the caterpillar. The silk bags, as the vessels containing the liquid gum of which the delicate d of silk is composed are called, are closed at their lower extremity. from whence they taper gradually to a greater width in the middle, and contract towards the head, where they unite with the spinnaret, or spinning tube.

Having now described the insects themselves, we will proceed to watch their progress from the eggs to the spinning and winding of the cocoon. During the winter months the silkworm-grower preserves the eggs in linen bags with great care, and as soon as they begin to burst into life in the spring, they are gently laid in flat wicker baskets lined with sun-baked clay, where they are supplied with the young and delicate leaves of the mulberry. At this time the tiny worms are scarcely larger than cheese mites, and therefore, for the first few days, a small quantity of food is consumed. As it is essential that the whole of the eggs should be hatched at about the same time, so as to ensure the tender budding leaves for the young brood, if any of the bags, from cold or otherwise, are later than the others in bursting into life, the peasants carefully wrap small quantities of the eggs in woollen materials and carry them about their persons, until the artificial warmth thus applied produces the desired result. For the first week the warms are kept in these wicker-baskets, fresh leaves being given to them three or four times daily. At the end of the first week they have gene-rally grown to the size of about half an inch in length, when the period of the first moulting has arrived, and the worms lie in a torpid state for a period of two days. The caterpillars which have survived this operation are then carefully removed from the wicker baskets and placed in the kokh, which has been arranged for their reception. The kokh, or silkworm home, is a low thatched building formed of sun-dried bricks, with trellised windows covered with myrtles and other trees, so as to exclude birds and serpents; but at the same time so as to admit of a free circulation of air. In these kokhs are long ranges of mat shelves, attached to poles, and ranged one above another, with about one foot space between each range.

On these shelves the silkworms are placed by the attendant peasants, and plentifully supplied with mulberry leaves, which are now devoured in such quantities as to render it necessary to lop off, and supply them with, the small twigs from the trees. During the two weeks succeeding the first moulting, large branches are lopped from the trees every morning and brought to the kokhs, and by this means the leaves are preserved in greater freshness, and are profusely sprinkled along the shelves by the peasants. About this period the second change of skin fakes place, and after this torpid condition the worm wakes up with renewed strength and vigour, and with considerably increased voracity of appetite. From this period the caterpillars grow prodigiously; they never cease eating, day or night, and the noise of their eating, on first entering the kokh, is said to be quite as loud as a heavy shower of rain falling on a thatched roof, and to resemble the incessant clipping of thousands of little scissors.