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Mary Hyland, age 15, of Visalia, Calif., f'or her question;

Why does a silkworm make silk?

The silkworm does not plan to make luxury material for blouses, dresses, hose and ribbons. He spins golden thread to make a cozy blanket for himself. He is a cocoon‑building; insect and he plans to sleep through his pupa stage cuddled in his silken basket. Plenty of other insects spin silken cocoons, but their thread is too fragile to be woven into cloth. The silkworm's ancestors have been cultivated for thousands of years. He is so pampered that he could not possibly survive in the wild.

Lets follow his life story from egg to cocoon. Chances are, he lived in Japan, where most of the world's silk is cultivated. His mother was a drab, brownish moth and he was one of a brood of 400 little white eggs. A silk farmer bought an ounce of these eggs, about 40,000 of them. Out little egg was taken along with the rest to a hillside farm where a grove of mulberry trees clustered around the house.

In a few days, the little white egg hatched to find himself in the farmer’s living room. He was on a straw tray with a sheet of perforated paper above his head. He was, of course, a caterpillar and he measured. one eighth of an inch and was no fatter than a hair. But he knew just what to do. He crawled up through a hole in the paper and found a meal of minced young mulberry leaves there waiting for him. Soon he was joined by his brothers and sisters. Some were carefully separated and put into other trays racked around the walls,

For a whole month, the farmer, his wife and three children pampered those caterpillars with loving care. The room was kept warm, well aired and quiet. There were no drafts and no direct sunshine. Always there were trays to be cleaned and mulberry leaves to be served. At the end of the month, the silkworms had made 130 pounds of cocoons which were processed into twelve pounds of raw silk,

On his first day, our little silkworm ate three times his weight in mulberry leaves. He enjoyed life on his crisp, clean tray and he ate and grew and grew. He was given six meals during the day and three during the night. The farmers house was filled with a sound like pattering rain, the noise of 40,000 hungry, munching caterpillars.

Four times the hungry little fellow. grew too big for his skin. The old skin cracked and fell away leaving a larger one underneath. When he was almost four weeks old, the silkworm was a fat fellow over three inches long. He ate one last big meal and grew restless. The farmer saw him roaming around with his head stretched up in the air and knew just what to do.

Caterpillar days were over and it was time now to go to sleep. The farmer put a slatted frame over the tray.  The silkworm reached up and got ready to spin his blanket. The silken thread came out of spinnerets under his chin.. It was a gooey thread which dried in the air as he spun, The little fellow wove the thread into figure eights with his back arched almost double, The farmer took the cocoon along with those woven by his brothers and sisters. The thread was gently unwound and spun into silken cloth.


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