Domestic Silk Moth – Be Gentle, Be Kind
Life and death. Sacrifices. What is your legacy? Be careful what you create doesn’t consume you. Loss and mourning. Grief. You have given away too much of yourself to others. Dependence. Look for those who would protect you. Endless love. Night secrets. Death and its symbolism. Scientific advancement comes with sacrifice. Look to the dark for guidance. Unusually fearless. Women in mythology and folklore. No one is lost forever, but some are lost for now. Be gentle, be kind.
The domestic silk moth (Bombyx mori) is an insect dependent on humans to live, and no longer found in the wild, though it was once native to China. It is known worldwide as the primary source of silk, and vital in sericulture (silk farming). It was originally domesticated from Bombyx mandarina. Sericulture has been practiced in China for at least 5,000 years, and spread to many other countries in the world.
Domestic silk moths have lost their colour pigmentation, the ability to functionally fly overall (with some exceptions), and larva have lost the ability to properly hang off young leaves to feed on them, meaning they are fully dependent on humans to survive. Adult moths may be able to fly briefly, but sustained flight can no longer be achieved because their bodies are too big for their small wings. They have a wingspan of 3-5 centimetres and a white-cream hairy body. Females are 2-3 times bulkier than males. They have reduced mouthparts and don’t feed, though they can be fed with human assistance. Females will die after laying hundreds of eggs. Males need human assistance in finding a mate, and domestic silk moths no longer fear predators. They have evolved tolerance for human presence and handling, and living in crowded conditions.
Silkworms are herbivores and have a preference for mulberry leaves, particularly white mulberry, but can eat a few other plants as well. When they enter the pupal stage of their lives, they spin their cocoons out of silk (approximately 300-900 metres of pure silk thread) which provides protection. The silk gland makes up a quarter of its bodyweight. It releases proteolytic enzymes to make a hole in the cocoon so it may emerge as a moth. Due to the fact that these enzymes damage the silk, silkworms are boiled alive in their cocoons to preserve the silk, a practice very controversial among animal activists. Around 2,000-3,000 cocoons are required to make 1 pound of silk, with over 70 million pounds of raw silk produced each year (10 billion cocoons). Boiled silkworms are eaten in many countries in the world, being a healthy and tasty source of fat and protein.
Due to the fact that it’s easy to raise and grow, the domestic silk moth has been studied extensively by researchers and scientists, and is often raised in primary and secondary school projects to demonstrate the life cycle of moths and butterflies. The silkworm has helped crucial science in the areas of pheromones, hormones, brain structures and physiology. They have even been genetically altered to successfully produce spider silk. In Vietnamese mythology, silkworms have been associated with maidens escaping from rape, capture and torture, and are connected to the goddess, Guanyin. In other countries, mythology associated with the silkworm are often connected to stories relating to the subjugation, victimisation and subsequent empowerment of women.