The tragic lives of silkworms in captivity

Originally published at: The tragic lives of silkworms in captivity | Boing Boing

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I haven’t watched the video yet, but based on the transcript excerpt that @pesco provided I am not sure that I can get up in arms about this, at least not any more than I do about any animal husbandry. Especially since a lot of traditional silkworm production yields the pupa as a food product once the silk is recovered.

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Available near me.

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When I think of how much plastic pollution (including polyester/nylon thread) is currently spread out across the world after less than 100 years of plastic production, and that this shit lasts forever and has unintended side effects on organisms big and small, it makes me question which is really the moral choice here.

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We’re gonna need a bigger moth!

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Silk garments, I wouldn’t know.

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I don’t think it’s much of a question. Plastic is bad.

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Remember how positively giddy everyone apparently was many years ago when someone developed a goat that could produce milk that contained spider-silk proteins? That sure went nowhere.

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Silverfish, several moths and beetles happily eat silk, so it’s not going to clog up the planet.

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Yeah I was just going to comment, being boiled alive isn’t the final indignity for these poor worms. No… they get turned into high-protein low carb street snacks. I wonder if you calculate how efficient they are as a food source, how do they compare to, say, chickens.

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There are some silk threads and fabrics that are marketed as “peace silk” because they don’t kill the silkworms. The moths emerge naturally or the cocoons are cut open. Rather than being one long unbroken thread, there are many shorter threads to collect.

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Free-range silk?

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They taste pretty good, with an interesting mouth feel. I tried some in Vietnam a few years ago.

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Is that related to silk noil?

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Yeah, it turns out that genetically altering goats and then breeding them and using the resulting milk is a slow process that doesn’t produce commercially useful quantities of the stuff in a reasonable timeframe. (Apparently there are only about 30 goats at this point, though this is after the company shut down and all the research went back to being done at the university.) Also it only produces a single protein of spider silk, the real version of which contains multiple ones, and the process by which the silk is spun out of a spider adds to the strength and replicating it isn’t trivial. I’m not sure it ever was remotely as strong as actual spider silk, which rather puts a damper on how exciting it is. Though I did read somewhere that there was interest in adding the gene to something more amenable to mass production, like plants or yeast.

All they need is mulberry leaves, so yeah, super-efficient. (Chickens need protein, and in fact silkworm larvae are fed to chickens, which is an indicator right there.) Silkworms have significantly more protein than say, chicken breast, but also more fat - but it’s essential fatty acids that make it even more appealing as a food source. (Plus, insects in general have more vitamins and minerals than chicken meat.) They’d be appealing for farming just as a food source even if they didn’t produce silk.

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I’m enjoying this… thread

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I see that in H-Mart all the time. I never have the nerve to pick it up. My wife would put it back on the shelf if I put it in the cart.

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My understanding is that when they pupate, moths and butterflies essentially dissolve their caterpillar selves and reconstitute in the adult form. There’s some space to argue that we’re boiling those cocoons at exactly the right time, just after the caterpillars have intentionally, humanely euthanized themselves and before the bits have been converted back into something we recognize as a creature.

Then again, at least some of the caterpillar nervous system is retained through the transformation. Is it the part that retains the sense of self? Do insects /have/ a sense of self?

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This is kind of like “reality” in The Matrix

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It’s now been shown that this is not the case- here’s a timelapse of CT scans of a pupa:

(from this paper)

Well, maybe the sense of smell.

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