Silkworms, the creatures that produce the fabric we call silk, are the larval form of the silk moth, Bombyx mori. This species is completely domesticated and are completely dependent on humans for survival. A silkworm diet is composed completely of mulberry leaves. They were domesticated through artificial selection and lost their ability to fly as a result. There are over a thousand inbred strains worldwide. The silkworm has been used by humans for thousands of years, and they have an interesting history.
According to legend, the silkworm was discovered by Chinese empress Si-Ling-Chi in the year 2640 B.C.E. The empress was walking through her garden when a silkworm cocoon dropped into her tea from the mulberry tree above. As she plucked it from her tea, the cocoon unraveled and formed a beautiful string of what we know of as silk today. She then looked up at the mulberry tree above, which had caterpillars crawling among the leaves. The empress concluded that the caterpillars were responsible for creating the fine silk.
Silk remained China’s secret for 2500 years. The royal family kept the secret to themselves; they sold to other Asian and European countries, but they did not reveal the source of the silk. The penalty for revealing the source of the material was death.
The secret was ultimately revealed to the rest of the world when two poor monks told Emperor Justinian of Constantinople what they learned about silk from their travels to China. Justinian sent the monks back to China to get him worms and mulberry shoots, and they returned to Constantinople after many years hiding the eggs and shoots in hollowed-out walking sticks. Because Constantinople was a major crossroad in international trade, the secret spread throughout Europe. (Natalie Gilmore / Kevin Clarke)
We offer a moth from the silkworm family, which is also the largest moth in the world.