Brief SummaryRead full entry
The silkworm is the larva or caterpillar of the domesticated silkmoth, Bombyx mori. This species is an economically important insect, having been domesticated in China from the wild ancestor Bombyx mandarina in about 2700 BC for sericulture (silk production). In comparison to the wild form, B. mori has a larger cocoon, faster rate of growth, increased fecundity and disease resistance. Additionally, the adults have lost the ability to fly and lack fear of potential predators. These changes have made it entirely dependent upon humans for survival and it no longer occurs naturally in the wild.
Bombyx mori's preferred food is white mulberry leaves (Morus alba), but it may also eat the leaves of any other mulberry tree (e.g., Morus rubra or Morus nigra), as well as the Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera). The tan-colored silkworm larvae grow to about 4 cm long, with a horn on their tail end. When ready to pupate, the caterpillar builds a substantial cocoon around itself from a single silk thread, 300-900 meters long. To unwind and harvest the silk thread without enzymes from the pupae damaging the silk, people boil the cocoons. Sometimes the boiled pupae are then eaten (called ground cucumber). Like most adults in the family Bombycidae, B. mori moths have reduced mouth parts so do not feed. Male and female moths are a similar brown-grey color, with a wingspan of 3–5 cm. Females can hold hundreds of eggs in their abdomen.
Bombyx mori has been used as a model organism in biological and genetic studies, and its full genome (~432 Mb) was sequenced and published in 2008.