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SILK WORM DIARY


12th July 2009
The Festival of Storytelling weekend is looming and apparently there is a National shortage of silk worms. A shortage of mulberry trees is a close second! Apparently the destiny of most silk worms today is as a nutritious source of food for exotic reptiles. Normally available in small, medium or large but sadly out of stock!
 
14th July 2009
An appeal to www.butterworms.co.uk appears to have worked! I explained the museum was delighted to be taking part in the Festival of Storytelling but to make it an even greater success our events linking the historic Sherborne silk collection, sericulture and the Legend of the Silk Empress would simply not be complete without some silk worms to watch. A quick reply informed us silk worms – small, hatching cocoons, artificial silk worm food and some sterile silk cocoons could be despatched.
 
16th July 2009
I know what it must be like at St Tiggywinkles now - wondering what will turn up next in a cardboard box. However our silkworms arrived in a plastic wrap shot by our postman through the letterbox on a very cold July morning to land with a thud on the porch tiles. A heap of wood shavings greeted me and not a silkworm in sight. Magnifying glass in hand and there they were - apparently lifeless and microscopic! Two hours of warming and they soon revived and started to feed. Our project was born!
 
18th July 2009
The silk worms are growing fast. You can see them without a magnifying glass now! Extra food rapidly grated over them as instructed. They need to be much bigger by the 24th! A quick check of the hatching cocoons – and there sits the first moth. The instructions said - no need for food or water - and dies within days. Hopefully it will live until next weekend!
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First moth emerges.

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Shows moth's pretty face.
 
19th July 2009
The silk worms have shed their skin again. Some are striped and others a plain beige.

A second moth has emerged from a cocoon. It looks remarkably like the first moth and they show no interest in each other!
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Silk worms grow fast
- now visible without a magnifying glass!

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Second moth emerges. Both look the same.

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Second moth emerges. Both look the same.
 
21st July 2009
A third moth makes its appearance. The first two come over to have a look but soon retreat. It is obviously not what they were looking for.
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Then there were three.
 
22nd July 2009
There is excitement in the tank! Much wing fluttering and the moths are all sitting on the same cocoon. Is this a good omen?
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They may not fly but they flutter well.
 
23rd July 2009
A fourth moth - just in time for the weekend. At last we have a female. Her broader body is causing quite a stir. The males are displaying with much wing fluttering and face cleaning.
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Fourth moth emerges and mating seems a possibility.
 
24th July 2009
Bad news! A moth is missing. For something described as capable of a brief flutter but unable to fly it seems to have gone a remarkably long way. Soles of shoes checked but all clear. The search continues!

6 hours later - alter that guide sheet from a brief flutter to a short flight! Moth spotted six yards from the tank and rapidly gathered up and returned.
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Getting friendly.
 
25th July 2009
Something must be about to happen. A frenzy of wing beating is taking place

6 hours later the female is laying tiny transparent eggs, each separately attached to the black tissue paper in the tank.

The silk worms are growing fast. The mulberry tree dropped a leaf and was fed to the silk worms. Within two hours all that remained was the stalk - even the veins had been eaten.
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At last we have eggs.
 
26th July 2009
The eggs are changing colour. They are getting darker.

Evening - one male moth has died.
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Close up of eggs.
 
27th July 2009
Another male moth has died.
 
28th July 2009
The silk worms have shed their skin again.

They are certainly not pretty. When they smell the next meal coming they rear up and wave their ugly heads in unison! Certainly a frightening sight for any predator.

The third male moth has died.
 
1st August 2009
The female moth, her role complete, leaves her eggs and dies in the opposite corner.
 
10th August 2009
More artificial silk worm food urgently needed. Ravenous appetites and still no sign of a strand of silk!
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A mulberry leaf was much appreciated.
 
11th August 2009
Butterworms to the rescue again and another container of food arrives.
 
13th August 2009
The silk worms continue to grow. The eggs, now a dark purple, remain unhatched.

Will we be able to complete the life cycle?
 
15th August 2009
What will become of the mulberry tree? The silk worms continue to appreciate any dropped leaves but we want it to have a permanent home in the town.
The Town Council has offered it a site in the Pageant Gardens this winter when conditions are right.

Taking part in the Festival of Storytelling has brought a lot of new faces to the museum and taught us a lot about Sherborne’s silk story. Interest in the silk story continues and we are delighted to be able to reintroduce the mulberry tree to a public place to commemorate both the event and an important part of the town’s history
 
Judy Nash (Curator 2004-2012)

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