Part 2 Contact with Humans

Humans first started domesticating silkworms around 3500 BCE in China, before the first dynasty government.  How silkworm sericulture started is likely that ancient Chinese took notice of the cocoons of wild silkworms on mulberry trees, leading to the deliberate raising of the larvae in controlled groves of mulberry trees.  In the Chinese legend of the Silk Goddess, an empress named Leizu discovered that the mulberry trees in her garden where being stripped of their leaves by something.  One day while drinking her tea in the garden, a white nut fell into her cup.  Looking closely, she found that the trees were full of these nuts.  The nut that had fallen in her hot tea had softened to the point where threads began to come loose from it.  Pulling on these threads she found that the nut was a cocoon containing a moth larva.  Recognizing the value of the thread Leizu had more trees planted and the threads spun into the first silk.  A different legend says that a girl made a deal with a horse, that if he found and returned her father from a war she would marry it.  After the horse succeeds and the father returns he learns of the deal and kills the horse, hanging its hide.  One day the hide blows onto and around the girl, transforming her into a silkworm.  The relationship between horses and silkworms is drawn based on the shape of the silkworm’s head.

    Silk as a commodity was at first limited to nobility due to its quality and the effort involved in getting enough thread to produce it.  As sericulture became more advanced and societies had more resources to put into silk production, silk became one of the main export goods of China, especially across Eurasia to the Middle Eastern and European empires.

    As insects, the relationship between silkworms and humans is severely one sided.  Silkworms receive food and shelter from natural predators and in return are boiled alive in their cocoons.  Lepidoptera in general do not have as complex social structure as other insects, let alone mammals.  Silkworms themselves have almost no social structure as the adults do not live very long, and are entirely dependant on humans to survive.  There has been little impact on humans by the domestication of silkworms itself.  By contrast the silkworm’s products, silk, food, and genetic experimentation, have had great impact on people and history.

Category(s): Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *