7 forest wonders: 1 Silk worms

Silkworms

© Fastily-GNU-FDL

It all began, Confucius tells us, when a Chinese empress accidentally dropped a silkworm moth cocoon into her cup of tea in 2640 BC and discovered that a fine fibre could be unreeled from it. And China monopolized the trade in silk by keeping its method of production – from caterpillars fed on mulberry leaves – a secret from the rest of the world. Anyone caught smuggling eggs, worms or cocoons faced the death penalty, and the crucial knowledge only reached Europe in around 550 AD. Silk from mulberry trees still dominates the market, but many other species of silkworm are gathered from forests. In Madagascar, for example, the Malagasy silkworm feeds on the primary tapia forests (Uapaca bojeri) of the Amoron’I Mani highland region; only 50,000 hectares remain, however, and even this is under threat from logging, bush fires and invading pine trees.

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