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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, 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. Silkworm larvae grow to about 4 cm long, and then build a cocoon in which to pupate. This cocoon is collected and boiled to harvest the 300-900 meter long single silk thread from which it is made. 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 similarly colored, but where males have a wingspan of 3–5 cm, females have vestigial wings and much larger bodies, holding hundreds of eggs.

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.

(Wikipedia, 2011)


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