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These plants, funghi and insect illustrations
are part of my botanical oracle deck

Bombyx mori | Silkworm Moth

Entomological Overview of Silkworm Moth

  • Scientific Name: Bombyx mori

  • Common Names: Silkworm Moth, Domestic Silkmoth

  • Family: Bombycidae (Silk moth family)

  • Description: Bombyx mori is a medium-sized moth, predominantly white or pale in color, with a wingspan ranging from 25 to 40 mm. Unlike its wild relatives, the domesticated silkworm moth has been selectively bred over millennia for silk production and is unable to fly. Its body is plump and covered with fine hairs. The larvae, known as silkworms, are caterpillars that grow to about 75 mm in length and are typically white, though they can also be yellow or grey. The silkworm goes through four distinct life stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (moth).

Properties of Silkworm Moth

  • Behavior: Bombyx mori exhibits behaviors that are highly specialized for its role in silk production. As caterpillars, silkworms feed voraciously on mulberry leaves, their sole diet, for about 4-6 weeks. Once fully grown, they spin a cocoon of silk fiber around themselves. The cocoon is composed of a continuous thread that can be up to 900 meters long. After spinning the cocoon, the caterpillar transitions into the pupal stage inside the cocoon. In natural conditions, the moth would emerge after metamorphosis by breaking through the cocoon. However, in sericulture (silk farming), the pupa is typically killed to preserve the integrity of the silk thread.

  • Life Cycle: The life cycle of Bombyx mori starts when the female lays hundreds of tiny eggs. After a period of incubation, the eggs hatch into larvae (silkworms), which feed intensively on mulberry leaves. This larval stage involves multiple molting phases, called instars. Upon reaching maturity, the silkworm spins its silk cocoon and pupates inside it. In sericulture, the silk is harvested at this stage, preventing the moth from emerging. If allowed to complete its cycle, the adult moth emerges, mates, and lays eggs, continuing the cycle. However, due to selective breeding, adult moths are incapable of flying and do not feed.

Distribution and Habitat of Silkworm Moth

  • Native Range: Originated in China.

  • Current Range: Globally distributed in regions where sericulture is practiced, primarily in Asia (China, India, Japan, and Thailand), but also in parts of Europe and South America.

  • Preferred Habitat: In the wild, their habitat would be areas with abundant mulberry trees. However, due to domestication, Bombyx mori is primarily found in controlled environments such as farms and laboratories where mulberry leaves are provided as their food source. These environments are specifically designed to optimize the conditions for silk production, including controlled temperature and humidity levels.

Role in the Ecosystem of Silkworm Moth

  • Economic Impact: Bombyx mori has a profound economic impact due to its role in silk production. Silk, produced from the cocoons of these moths, has been a valuable textile material for thousands of years. It has driven trade, particularly along historical routes like the Silk Road, and continues to be an important industry in many countries. The domesticated silkworm has little direct impact on natural ecosystems due to its dependence on human cultivation and its limited ability to survive in the wild.

  • Agricultural Influence: The cultivation of mulberry trees for feeding silkworms supports agricultural ecosystems and provides income for farmers. Additionally, byproducts from sericulture, such as mulberry leaves and stems, can be used as animal fodder, contributing to agricultural sustainability.

  • Environmental Contributions: Although Bombyx mori has been domesticated, its ancestors and wild relatives play roles in their natural ecosystems, such as being part of the food web and contributing to plant pollination and nutrient cycling. Domesticated silkworms themselves are part of a controlled agricultural ecosystem and do not contribute directly to natural ecosystems.

Magical Correspondences and Uses in Magical Practice

  • Element: Air

  • Planet: Moon

  • Magical Properties: Transformation, creativity, patience, and resourcefulness.

  • Uses: In magical practices, the silkworm moth is a powerful symbol of transformation and creativity. Its life cycle—from egg to caterpillar, then to a silk-spinning cocoon, and finally emerging as a moth—mirrors the process of change and metamorphosis. This makes it an ideal emblem in spells and rituals focusing on personal growth, change, and new beginnings. The silk produced by Bombyx mori, with its luxurious texture and strength, is often associated with wealth, beauty, and the weaving of destiny. In magical contexts, silk can be used to enhance spells related to love, prosperity, and protection. The meticulous and patient nature of the silkworm in creating its cocoon aligns it with themes of diligence, perseverance, and the intricate weaving of plans and ideas into reality. Additionally, the association with Mercury emphasizes communication, intellect, and the flow of ideas, making the silkworm moth a symbol in rituals aimed at enhancing mental clarity, learning, and eloquence.

Folklore, Legends, and Mythology of Silkworm Moth

  • Historical Context: The silkworm moth has been central to various cultures, especially in East Asia, due to its critical role in silk production. Its domestication and the secretive nature of early silk production have inspired numerous legends and myths.

  • Chinese Folklore: According to Chinese mythology, the origins of sericulture are attributed to Leizu, the wife of the Yellow Emperor. Legend states that she discovered how to cultivate silkworms and extract silk fibers after a cocoon fell into her tea, and the heat unraveled the threads. She is celebrated as the goddess of silk and sericulture. The myth highlights themes of discovery, ingenuity, and the close relationship between humans and nature.

  • Japanese Mythology: In Japanese culture, silkworms are often associated with industry and perseverance. There are stories of deities and mythical figures teaching humans the art of silk cultivation, emphasizing the value of hard work and dedication. Silkworms are also seen as symbols of purity and are sometimes associated with the souls of ancestors or revered spirits.

  • European Folklore: In Europe, where silk became a coveted luxury after being introduced through trade, the silkworm was often seen as a magical creature. Its ability to produce fine threads from seemingly nothing was considered almost alchemical. Medieval tales and Renaissance writings sometimes depicted the silkworm as a symbol of industriousness and the rewards of diligence.

Historical Literary Sources

  • "The Book of Silk" by Philippa Scott (1993): A comprehensive history of silk production, including the cultural and economic impact of the silkworm.

  • "Silk and Religion: An Exploration of Material Life and the Thought of People, AD 600-1200" by Xinru Liu (1998): Discusses the role of silk and the silkworm in the context of religion and culture throughout history.

  • "The Silkworm and the Spider" by Frank E. Egler (1971): Explores the ecological and cultural significance of silkworms and their role in human history.


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