The silkworm is an insect from ancient China. An early legend recounts a Chinese empress who pulled the threads of silkworm cocoons and spun them into a magnificent silk robe for the emperor. Silkworms are also a popular source of nutrients for a variety of insects, animals and people.
Reptiles and Insects
Silkworms are part of the diets of many reptiles and amphibians, such as salamanders, frogs, toads, turtles, lizards and snakes. Some can eat up to 30 silkworms in a day. Ants, spiders, mosquitoes and wasps also prey on silkworm cocoons. Silkworms are staple feeder insects for pets. In some places, live silkworms are sold in a variety of container sizes, but they also come as freeze-dried pupa (or pupae), canned, and in egg kits.
Fish and Birds
The protein content of silkworms makes them good fish food. A silkworm diet improves the slime coat protection of the Koi fish and its resistance to bacterial or parasitic infections. Both wild and captive birds, including many types of finches, quails and parrots also eat silkworms. Some birds eat the worms as well as the moths.
In some Asian countries, such as China and Korea, silkworms are considered a nutritious and readily available street food. Chinese people enjoy roasted silkworm pupae. In Korea, freshly stewed and seasoned silkworm pupae (called beondaegi) is sold on the street for about $4. People snack on this street food as if they were peanuts.
According to a March 2011 story in the Emory Riddle Aeronautical University newspaper, Chinese researchers have investigated using silkworm pupae for astronaut food. The article says the animal is ideal as space food since it's small, can reproduce quickly, doesn't make much of a mess, and its protein and amino acid content surpasses that of pork, eggs and milk. The research also concluded that an astronaut would need to eat 170 bugs or webs a day to get the full nutritional benefits.
Since 2008, Jen Kim has been a professional writer and blogger, working for national publications such as Psychology Today and Chicago Tribune affiliates. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University.