The Silkworm

: Fables For Children, Stories For Children, Natural Science Stori

I had some old mulberry-trees in my garden. My grandfather had planted

them. In the fall I was given a dram of silkworm eggs, and was advised

to hatch them and raise silkworms. These eggs are dark gray and so small

that in that dram I counted 5,835 of them. They are smaller than the

tiniest pin-head. They are quite dead; only when you crush them do they


The eggs had been lying around on my table, a
d I had almost forgotten

about them.

One day, in the spring, I went into the orchard and noticed the buds

swelling on the mulberry-trees, and where the sun beat down, the leaves

were out. I thought of the silkworm eggs, and took them apart at home

and gave them more room. The majority of the eggs were no longer dark

gray, as before, but some were light gray, while others were lighter

still, with a milky shade.

The next morning, I looked at the eggs, and saw that some of the worms

had hatched out, while other eggs were quite swollen. Evidently they

felt in their shells that their food was ripening.

The worms were black and shaggy, and so small that it was hard to see

them. I looked at them through a magnifying-glass, and saw that in the

eggs they lay curled up in rings, and when they came out they

straightened themselves out. I went to the garden for some mulberry

leaves; I got about three handfuls of leaves, which I put on my table,

and began to fix a place for the worms, as I had been taught to do.

While I was fixing the paper, the worms smelled their food and started

to crawl toward it. I pushed it away, and began to entice the worms to a

leaf, and they made for it, as dogs make for a piece of meat, crawling

after the leaf over the cloth of the table and across pencils, scissors,

and papers. Then I cut off a piece of paper, stuck holes through it with

a penknife, placed the leaf on top of it, and with the leaf put it down

on the worms. The worms crawled through the holes, climbed on the leaf,

and started to eat.

When the other worms hatched out, I again put a piece of paper with a

leaf on them, and all crawled through the holes and began to eat. The

worms gathered on each leaf and nibbled at it from its edges. Then, when

they had eaten everything, they crawled on the paper and looked for more

food. Then I put on them new sheets of perforated paper with mulberry

leaves upon them, and they crawled over to the new food.

They were lying on my shelf, and when there was no leaf, they climbed

about the shelf, and came to its very edge, but they never fell down,

though they are blind. The moment a worm comes to an edge, it lets out a

web from its mouth before descending, and then it attaches itself to it

and lets itself down; it hangs awhile in the air, and watches, and if it

wants to get down farther, it does so, and if not, it pulls itself up by

its web.

For days at a time the worms did nothing but eat. I had to give them

more and more leaves. When a new leaf was brought, and they transferred

themselves to it, they made a noise as though a rain were falling on

leaves,--that was when they began to eat the new leaf.

Thus the older worms lived for five days. They had grown very large and

began to eat ten times as much as ever. On the fifth day, I knew, they

would fall asleep, and waited for that to happen. Toward evening, on the

fifth day, one of the older worms stuck to the paper and stopped eating

and stirring.

The whole next day I watched it for a long time. I knew that worms

moulted several times, because they grew up and found it close in their

old hide, and so put on a new one.

My friend and I watched it by turns. In the evening my friend called


"It has begun to undress itself,--come!"

I went up to him, and saw that the worm had stuck with its old hide to

the paper, had torn a hole at the mouth, thrust forth its head, and was

writhing and working to get out, but the old shirt held it fast. I

watched it for a long time as it writhed and could not get out, and I

wanted to help it. I barely touched it with my nail, but soon saw that I

had done something foolish. Under my nail there was something liquid,

and the worm died. At first I thought that it was blood, but later I

learned that the worm has a liquid mass under its skin, so that the

shirt may come off easier. With my nail I no doubt disturbed the new

shirt, for, though the worm crawled out, it soon died.

The other worms I did not touch. All of them came out of their shirts in

the same manner; only a few died, and nearly all came out safely, though

they struggled hard for a long time.

After shedding their skins, the worms began to eat more voraciously, and

more leaves were devoured. Four days later they again fell asleep, and

again crawled out of their skins. A still larger quantity of leaves was

now consumed by them, and they were now a quarter of an inch in length.

Six days later they fell asleep once more, and once more came out in new

skins, and now were very large and fat, and we had barely time to get

leaves ready for them.

On the ninth day the oldest worms quit eating entirely and climbed up

the shelves and rods. I gathered them in and gave them fresh leaves, but

they turned their heads away from them, and continued climbing. Then I

remembered that when the worms get ready to roll up into larvae, they

stop eating and climb upward.

I left them alone, and began to watch what they would do.

The eldest worms climbed to the ceiling, scattered about, crawled in all

directions, and began to draw out single threads in various directions.

I watched one of them. It went into a corner, put forth about six

threads each two inches long, hung down from them, bent over in a

horseshoe, and began to turn its head and let out a silk web which began

to cover it all over. Toward evening it was covered by it as though in a

mist; the worm could scarcely be seen. On the following morning the worm

could no longer be seen; it was all wrapped in silk, and still it spun

out more.

Three days later it finished spinning, and quieted down. Later I learned

how much web it had spun in those three days. If the whole web were to

be unravelled, it would be more than half a mile in length, seldom less.

And if we figure out how many times the worm has to toss its head in

these three days in order to let out all the web, it will appear that in

these three days the worm tosses its head 300,000 times. Consequently,

it makes one turn a second, without stopping. But after the work, when

we took down a few cocoons and broke them open, we found inside the

worms all dried up and white, looking like pieces of wax.

I knew that from these larvae with their white, waxen bodies would come

butterflies; but as I looked at them, I could not believe it. None the

less I went to look at them on the twentieth day, to see what had become

of them.

On the twentieth day, I knew, there was to be a change. Nothing was to

be seen, and I was beginning to think that something was wrong, when

suddenly I noticed that the end of one of the cocoons grew dark and

moist. I thought that it had probably spoiled, and wanted to throw it

away. But then I thought that perhaps it began that way, and so I

watched to see what would happen. And, indeed, something began to move

at the wet end. For a long time I could not make out what it was. Later

there appeared something like a head with whiskers. The whiskers moved.

Then I noticed a leg sticking out through the hole, then another, and

the legs scrambled to get out of the cocoon. It came out more and more,

and I saw a wet butterfly. When all six legs scrambled out, the back

jumped out, too, and the butterfly crawled out and stopped. When it

dried it was white; it straightened its wings, flew away, circled

around, and alighted on the window.

Two days later the butterfly on the window-sill laid eggs in a row, and

stuck them fast. The eggs were yellow. Twenty-five butterflies laid

eggs. I collected five thousand eggs. The following year I raised more

worms, and had more silk spun.