Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Silk Worms throughout the House

Remember how we visited the silk worm auction outside of Bangalore? Well it was one of my favorite things to see on our trip because it was so interesting. The farmers brought in bags and bags of silk worms in their silk cocoons.

Silk Worms
Here is one cocoon that they cut open for us to see--the little worm is still wriggling around. The little piece of dirt that's stuck to his head is his waste.

At the silk worm auction there were two separate kinds of silk worms: the whiter, smaller cocoons are the Chinese variety (see the cocoon on the left) and the larger, yellower cocoons are the Indian variety (see the cocoon on the right). The Chinese are worth more because not only are they valued for their lack of color but because there is more silk--the Indian cocoons have about 800-1000 meters of silk wrapped around and around in one continuous strand and the Chinese have up to 1600 meters. The yellow cocoon looks as if it has more silk but for some reason the smaller Chinese cocoon is just packed more tightly.

Silk Worms
The farmers gave me several cocoons as souvenirs and they're about my favorite thing that I brought home from the trip (but then I've always had a weakness for natural souvenirs like pine cones and acorns and sea shells). They're rather sticky--almost like Velcro--as their strands cling to each other but they're also slightly shimmery. It kind of makes you wonder who it was that first had the idea to take one of these guys and harvest its tiny piece of string.

Two of the cocoons I froze overnight in the freezer to kill the little worms. I know it's brutal but they were doomed anyway and I figured it was kinder than letting them hatch in a frigid Arctic environment. Once they're sold at auction they're thrown into vats of hot water where the secretions that hold the strands in place are loosened and the individual thread of silk can be gathered and wrapped up for use.

Another cocoon we cut open to show the kids what was inside. By that time the little worm was half-way metamorphosed into a moth which is what you see in the picture above. I'm afraid he didn't make it either.

One little cocoon went with Lillian to show and tell at school and then the last cocoon I stuck in a bowl and left on my bedroom shelf just to see what would happen. When I got up Monday morning this is what I saw:

Silk Worms
It's wings were still wet and eventually dripped spots of tan color all over the bowl as they dried but we now have one bona fide silk moth in the house.

I'm not sure what to do with him, the chances of survival in an Alaskan April are pretty slim--we don't have too many mulberry trees up here--but I can't bear to kill it so I stuck it in a butterfly cage with a dish of sugar water to see if we could get it to eat but so far it's just sat on its cocoon and cried. I think it misses India too.

Sponsored by Dimples and Dandelions for Serena and Lily baby bedding.

23 comments:

Peach Rainbow said...

This is the first time I have read about the procedure of making silk and now i understand why the 'animal rights' people are against it!

The moth's wings look beautiful, I too feel sorry for it!

Suzie B. said...

I wonder why all of the worms aren't allowed to hatch and then their cocoons taken away. Or is it destroyed as they hatch?

Summer said...

I don't care much for moths but that is a very beautiful one.

Kris said...

How did you get them over the border? They don't ask at customs if you have stuff like that to claim? I can't even bring pansy seeds from Canada into the US! Very cool though.

K.

Scribbit said...

Suzie--they eat their way out of the top so it does ruin the single strand that they collect. Plus I'm sure it's easier to just kill them off in the water rather than waiting for hatching.

Not pretty but there it is.

And Kris--you've caught me in an embarrassing admission--I totally forgot I had them in my bag when I filled out the customs form. Mostly because I didn't buy anything for myself there but I brought a ton of stuff back for my mom so she filled out the customs list for me instead and I just went off her info.

Forgot about the worms until we'd already cleared customs a long way back. But yes, they probably would have had something to say about that one. Now they'll hunt me down and slap me in cuffs.

Heart2Heart said...

Michelle,

What a beautiful butterfly and the colors on the wings are amazing. Can't wait to hear if the little one makes it. Perhaps one of your bloggers can send you some mulberry leaves.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Lei said...

Wow, that is one beautiful creature!

Lucy said...

That is so interesting. And to think beautiful clothing comes from that. Who thought of it in the first place. Questions questions. :)

bigguysmama said...

So cool. Now I'm going to be attached to a moth & will be so sad when it dies. LOL

~Mimi

Headless Mom said...

There is a way to 'breed' them. Our school has a family of them. The teachers keep them in their fridge-a certain temp keeps them in hibernation, then they take them out the next year for the new class of kids. As cool as they are, they are very messy. When my 10yo. was in 1st grade we 'babysat' them over spring break. The waste and withered leaves didn't quite stay in the box very well. We do have a plethora of mulberry trees here, though, so food was not a problem. The teachers cut up toilet paper tubes for them to make the cocoons in. The kids love it because the life cycle is very short and they can see the turn-over a few times.

Annette Lyon said...

Now that is just cool!

MarytheKay said...

Oh wow...I just marvel at some of the amazing things in our world. A single strand of silk around a cocoon fits that bill! Wow... The Chinese cocoon looks a little bit like styrofoam.

noreen said...

How neat!!

I remember getting a recipe from your blog for flat pancakes or something like that. They were really runny batter that you spread in the whole pan. I lost the recipe and after searching your blog and looking at all the recipes I can't find it. Did I just imagine this recipe?

Scribbit said...

Maybe a crepe recipe? That's sounds like your description.

jsimplylive said...

Hi. This is my first time visiting your blog, and was so interesting. Great job.

Amelia said...

Wow, what an amazing creature and process. I would be curious as well to know who thought of unraveling the cocoon for the string. It sounds like a tedious process. No wonder silk is expensive! Thanks for sharing! Your trip sounds wonderful.

April said...

What a great way to share the experience with your kids!

But whatever you do, DON'T release the moth outside! You may think it'll do no harm ("It'll die from the cold and lack of food anyway" and such thoughts), but it could very easily start a chain reaction that damages the ecosystem in your area.

That's what rabbits did in Australia, Asian beetles in the US, and wild parrots in Japan. "What harm could it do?" very quickly became a big problem.

Keep it in a cage in your house until it dies.

Jane Hamilton said...

Hi Michelle, I just read all your posts on your trip to India... I love the way you have objectively described our culture, food, and people. I wish more people would look hard enough at the good stuff and stop stereotyping us...sigh...well, I'm glad you had a good time. Visit again, soon.

exotic1 said...

How interesting. Thanks for sharing this info and pics with us~!

Sonja said...

WOW! What a wonderful way to remember your trip! The silk worms and their cocoons are fascinating. Good luck to the moth, at least he made it that far.

lazzab said...

uh yeah. more than an embarrassing admission, it's not funny. and most likely illegal. you've often talked about coming to new zealand. it's people like you who are completely ignorant of customs that ruin the ecology of a country. seriously, new zealand is all screwed up because people say 'oh but it's just this one, and i want to show it to my kids'. i don't want to be all high and mighty, but a little thing called the veroa bee mite has nearly wiped out the honey industry here, and one pregnant snake could do all our flightless and already endangered birds out. it might not seem like a big deal, but there is a reason for customs. would you let kangaroo loose in your neighborhood? might be harmless. might not. i encourage you to call customs and explain. they might even let you keep them. to me biosecurity is way more important than airport security.

Stephanie said...

That's a pretty crazy souvenir! I bet your kids loved it though!

stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

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