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Adventures in Silk Land

A friend recently told me that she receives notifications when I add a new post, but she waits until she is home with her husband so they can read them together.  This was a very affirming  and encouraging statement, but I must confess it also sent a little panic through me as I envisioned this.  I could easily see them enjoying a goofy photo of my bald head, or visualize them giggling over the thought of me showing up for jury duty on the wrong day, but somehow I was a bit uncomfortable over the thought of Phillip, sitting down with Kristi after a hard day’s work on the farm expecting to find a funny story, hearing instead my song of adoration for a certain pink rose.  Texas bluebonnets maybe, but pink roses and ruffled aprons? The picture of him in his jeans and John Deere suspenders with a expression of disappointment and dismay kept appearing in my mind’s eye.

So there will be more roses to come, but here’s a little tale with more poop than pink petals .  This one is for Farmer Phillip.

It all started innocently enough.  Small cardboard box in hand, my principal asked me if I would like some silkworms for my classroom.  Someone had given them to him because they had too many.  This should have been a hint to think before answering, but I was distracted by the masses of ten-year-old humanity swarming around me, and it was early in the morning.  My coffee hadn’t take full effect, and my senses were not working at full capactity.  In my haste to be the wonderfully enriching science teacher that I knew my principal would certainly expect me to be and to get back to the task of controlling the chaos that could break out if I let down my guard for more than ten seconds, I spoke those fateful word that would determine the course of my life for the next several weeks. 

“Yes.  That would be great!”

Ok, I admit, I don’t really remember the exact words.  I’ve already told you I can’t remember what I had for breakfast by the time lunch rolls around, but I’m pretty sure it was something like that. I know it because my principal disappeared and the box of gray, squirming larvae remained on the counter, and the adventure began. 

Silkworm Larvae and Mulberry Leaves

Now other teachers in my school, others all over the school district, even all over the world have raised silkworms in their classroom for years, but most of my science teaching career has taken place in a shared classroom with a math teacher with animal-aversion tendencies.  This has come in very handy for my extra-cleaning-aversion tendencies.  Now that I am in my own much-smaller-more-crowded classroom I cannot use her preferences as an excuse to explain the obvious absence of a class pet.  Normally a flora gal, my answer  to the call for fauna in my first year in my own classroom was a pretty little blue betta fish.  He came home with me for the summer, but immunosuppression from chemo called for special precautions against contact with any standing water, so my family was drafted to tend to him during my treatment.  Fortunately I survived cancer and related treatments, but Aphie was not so fortunate.  The poor guy kicked the bucket before school started in the fall. I suppose the subs didn’t give him the fine level of care I had been providing him . 

With no fish to claim the territory, silkworm larvae were given a home in the empty aquarium, but it became apparent pretty quickly that we had an overpopulation problem. 

Silkworms and mulberry leaf

Another aquarium was procured, and some of the critters were moved into the new real estate. 

Feeding the hundreds of hungry little mouths became quite a job. 

One of my students had prior experience as a silkworm rancher, so he was hired right away to be in charge of gathering leaves for the herd.  He didn’t earn much in the way of acutal pay, but he did gain my undying gratitude.

Silkworms are picky eaters.  Mulberry leaves are the only item on their menu. 

Mulberry Tree Branch

What their diet lacks in variety, they make up for in volume.

They ate.  A lot. 

And pooped.  A lot.

And they grew. A lot.

And then they ate some more. 

An abundance of leaves in the morning would be consumed by lunchtime. 

Silkworms eating mulberry leaves

This was great Monday through Friday for the students that were oh-so-anxious for the opportunity to venture outside to the mulberry tree,  a delightful assignment that gave them a pass to be outside in the fresh air.  It was not so jolly-good on Saturdays and Sundays  when I was left with the responsiblity for leaf gathering.  I showed up once a day the first weekend, but by the second weekend they were eating leaves almost faster than I could shove them into their habitat.  Or at least it felt like it. 

Two feedings on Saturday, two feedings on Sunday.  I was beginning to have not-too-fond feelings about the little gluttons who were interrupting my peaceful weekends.  Gathering leaves was just part of the job responsibility.  Poop disposal meant transferring each caterpillar to a new spot in the process of cleaning the tank.  Rather time consuming, and their little feet tickled my hands.  

With all the eating and growing, things were getting quite crowded in the aquariums.  


To alleviate the overcrowding I moved some of them to a third container, and I started giving them away to students.  One problem solved, another created.  Kids were lining up at the door after school to claim their new pets, then creating havoc at the mulberry tree outside the cafeteria as they gathered leaves to take home. 

Silkworms become translucent

Thankfully the growing size of the larvae was a sign of changes to come.  A few of them started to take on a more golden, translucent appearance, stop their chewing, and to lift their head into the air.  By the time the big STAAR testing day came we had actually witnessed part of the miracle of metamorphosis beginning to occur.  The first larva had moved to the pupa stage.  A pretty little white cocoon was evidence that this complete metamorphosis stuff I’d been talking to them about wasn’t just some crazy science book talk.  It had really happened right in our classroom. 

Silkworm cocoon in cardboard tube

The first graders babysat the three containers while the fifth graders took the Big Test.  We certainly wouldn’t want to give anyone a reason to question our integrity because we had living examples of life cycle changes in the testing area.  So away they went to fascinate younger students for the morning. 


While we tested the work of spinning continued.

Silkworms beginnging to spin cocoon

Silkworm visible inside cocoon

By Friday afternoon at the close of the school day most of the silkworms were beginning the process of spinning cocoons, those that were still showing signs of needing to eat a while longer were given away to the even longer line of children lined up outside my door.  Between silkworm ranching duties and last minute test preparation I was exhausted.  Any creature left in my classroom by the time I left for the weekend better be self sufficient, because I had no intention of darkening the schoolhouse door until Monday. 



Cocoon Silk

Monday morning found all the creatures safe and snug inside their silk cocoon sleeping bags.   No more sounds of munching to be heard when leaning my ear near the tanks.  All is peaceful in Silk Land.

Until those little egg-laying moths emerge:)




  1. Jammie
    Posted 1 May ’12 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Oh my! What an adventure! I’ve raised the random monarch but never a silkworm. Who knew they were so prolific!

  2. Joni Thomas
    Posted 1 May ’12 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Ummm. I’m so glad I taught French:)

    • Kristy
      Posted 3 May ’12 at 6:55 pm | Permalink


  3. Kristy
    Posted 3 May ’12 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Philip, who has never sent an email in his LIFE and who does not “surf” or “browse” and who thinks the Internet may be the handiwork of The Devil, was DELIGHTED to have been mentioned in this blog! When I told him to hurry home because there was a blog post JUST FOR FARMER PHIL, he convinced those chickens to get in the coop a little earlier than usual.

    It was really hard not to peek at the blog without him, but knowing that it involved disgusting worms (and might have the revolting word “pupa” somewhere in the text!!) made it a lot easier. When he finally got home and finished dinner, we fluffed up our pillows and got in bed with the laptop where we read–and loved–every word of this post.

    You are our hero, Laura Nell. Rock on.

    P.S. Oh, and I will think of your worm-infested classroom the next time I purchase a silk scarf!

  4. Jennifer
    Posted 6 May ’12 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    We have a big container full of cocoons waiting to hatch out. Jacob managed to keep all but one of his worms alive. Thanks for all you do.

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