Did you know

26 Sep 2023

Did you know? Silkworms

In China, there is a legend that the discovery of the silkworm's silk was first invented by the wife of the Yellow Emperor Leizu around the year 2696 BC. According to the book written in the 13th century, she was drinking tea under a tree when a cocoon fell into her tea. She picked it out and as it started to wrap around her finger, she slowly felt something warm. When the tea ran out, she saw a small cocoon. In an instant, she realized that this cocoon was the source of the silk. She taught this to the people and it became common.

There are many more legends about the silkworm. The silkworm is the lavra, the active immature form of an insect or caterpillar of the Bombyx mori moth. Silk has been made for at least 5,000 years in China. The moth is important because it makes silk. It is entirely dependent on humans, and it no longer lives in the wild. Silkworms eat mulberry leaves.

The cocoon is made of one thread of raw silk from 300 to 900 meters (1000 to 3000 feet) long. The fibres are very thin. About 2,000 to 5,000 cocoons are needed to make a pound of silk. If the animal is allowed to survive after spinning its cocoon, it will make a hole in the cocoon when it exits as a moth. This would cut the threads and ruin the silk. Instead, silkworm cocoons are thrown into boiling water, which kills the silkworms and also makes the cocoons easier to unravel. Often, the silkworm itself is eaten.

Cyprus was well known for its silk production. Silk was produced in Kythrea and in Lapithos villages and the sale of silk thrived until the British period when it died out due to industrialisation and the import of Manchester cotton.

The ‘Did You Know’ series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus) and the Active Citizens Fund.

Discover More