I have a few boxfuls of caterpillars at the moment, all busy eating and needing regular attention. They are two types of Samia. So time for a little bit of history - Samia cynthia is a species of silkmoth from China and Korea originally. As a result of being used for silk production, they have been introduced to lots of different parts of the world and there are sufficient variations for them to be recognised as distinct races, but they are still all the same species (unless someone has decided differently since I last checked, which is quite possible). Ricini is the tropical form that is reared in India for eri silk. I had some of these a couple of years ago and they produced big, fluffy, white cocoons.
So, the first lot of caterpillars I am rearing this time are a cross between ricini and walkerii, which is the form that was introduced into Italy and now lives wild in some areas. Most of these caterpillars have already spun their cocoons, and they are a fantastic mixture of white, pale gold and bright golden orange in colour. I am looking forward to seeing the moths when they emerge, because I got these as eggs.
The other caterpillars I have originate from some Samia cocoons I got at around the same time. I don’t know which race these are, but the cocoons are quite different, much smaller and tighter, and beige in colour. Here they are pictured with some of my old ricini cocoons.
The moths that emerged from these cocoons were really brightly coloured and laid lots of eggs, hence the hungry caterpillars.
The caterpillars are gregarious when they are small and all sit together on the underside of the leaves. I am feeding them on privet, because as its winter there isn’t anything else in leaf that they will eat. Here they are at different stages in their life cycle.
This one has just shed its skin, you can see the old skin stuck to the leaf behind it
Here's what they look like when they are full size caterpillars, with a hand behind for scale!
They are very colourful at this stage.
And here, one has just started to spin its cocoon. It takes a few hours to complete the process.
Although the cocoons don’t look very substantial, I have processed the eight empty ones I have so far. After carding the fibre, it really looks quite pretty. I am looking forward to getting enough to spin a reasonable amount of yarn