Wednesday, February 28, 2007

the responsibilities of having babies

Luckily when I think about reproduction, I'm not considering humans, and even luckier, humans don't have 200 babies plus at a go. Silkworms do however.

I've been lurking on the catherders discussion group since raising some Bombyx mori (the chinese silkworm) this summer. Catherder refers to those who raise caterpillars, of course, specifically silk-producing cats. I was very interested in raising silkworms other than Bombyx and when someone offered Eri eggs, I jumped up and down and waved my hands, "over here, please." The wonderful Laurie sent me some eggs, lovely white to greenish when they arrived. I prepared a terrarium and pulled out some of small containers I'd used to start the Bombyx and horror!

Some Bombyx moths had been very silly and laid their eggs on the cocoons instead of on paper. Now I know to separate the emerged and mated moths from the rest of the cocoons, but then. I wasn't sure what to do about the egg-covered cocoons, so although I put the rest of the eggs in the fridge, I stuck the egg-covered cocoons in with the rest of the cocoons meaning to do something about them later.

Well, apparently even our frigid house warmed up enough to fool the buggers and when I pulled out the bag of cocoons, there were all these little black dashes in the silk (naturally I'd stuck the loose silk in there too, the better to entangle everything). I felt horrible that the little guys had hatched and then died from starvation. I left the bag on the table as I got the Eri eggs situated and when my entomologist roommate came by, I sadly showed her the dead babies. Except that some were moving. Actually on looking closer, quite a few were moving. Most of them really.

I looked outside. No, our mulberry trees were still quite bare. Not even the hint of buds just starting to burst, buds that could be dissected to provide nourishment for the little guys. Arrgh! I knew they make artificial chow for Bombyx silkworms, but had only seen it sold online. Ran around all day checked the local pet stores. They gave me strange looks. Guess it's only sold online. Searched the internet looking for possible food substitutes until I could get some chow by mail. A few people mentioned feeding lettuce but said they don't do well on it. I just wanted them to have something to eat until I got something better, but my guys didn't want any of the various lettuce leaves I offered. Someone mentioned beet greens. Last ditch effort rushed from my weaving class to the market to pick up some for them. No takers.

Meanwhile, I'd called one of my fiber buddies (the one who had rolled her eyes and laughed at me when I enthused about raising silkworms this summer--she'd done it before and was not doing it again). After laughing and joking that I could just flush them down the toilet, she made some calls. A friend of a friend in Santa Rosa had some silkworm chow she was willing to share. She'd even be up until midnight if I wanted to drive out there that night. And my friend kindly offered to go with me if I wanted a nighttime driving buddy. I was teaching class until 10 and am not a good late night driver. Since I had the next day off, I told the gracious provider of silkworm chow that I would come the following day if I couldn't get the beasties to eat the beet greens.

The leaves were beautiful the next morning, and I was concerned because I'd read somewhere that newly hatched silkworms needed to eat within 24 hours. I wasn't even sure when these guys had hatched, but I assumed they needed food soon. Luckily it was a beautiful day for a drive, and I love going to Sonoma. The clouds were spectacular and the light quality was gorgeous. Though there hasn't been much rain, there was still bright fresh grass on the hills.

The kegos (baby silkworms) were very thankful for their food and fell on it right away. This is them a few days later.

My Eri cats started hatching a few days after I got them. They are very different from the Bombyx babies. Bigger, yellow with black spikes already. And sooo mobile. Actually the Bombyx kegos were moving around a lot this time possibly because of want of food. Usually they don't go far and supposedly can even starve a few centimeters from their food. The Eri's seem to be wanderers. I hate to play favorites, but I love these guys. They eat privets. We have privets. We don't like our privets.

Even in ease of care...the Eri cats clump together and tend to mass on leaves which makes cleaning up their petri dishes very easy. And they don't seem to be producing little strands of silk all the time like the Bombyx. That silk makes it much harder to move the Bombyx around and especially with the mulberry chow, cleaning their containers is much more work. I love the Bombyx too, but I can't wait until they get bigger and easier to move, and I really really can't wait until those mulberry trees leaf out. The buds are starting to get ready.

I have been talking up the Bombyx, trying to find homes for some of the cats when they get bigger and for some of the gazillion eggs, I have from last year. Brought some of the kegos to a spinning as meditation workshop I assisted at this weekend and found two possible silkworm raisers. I was surprised at people's tendencies to poke at the silkworms with their fingers. Please. They're tiny and fragile. People do seem to want to touch everything. I'm thinking about doing a one-day artist sale in Sacramento this weekend, but am worried about bringing my sculptures because they are not really meant to be picked up and put down by less than careful people. Maybe I need to make them plastic cases, but those are expensive even to cut and glue yourself.

My knitting, however, is meant to be touched, and I'm in love with the yarn I'm using for the Cinderella gloves. It's Seasilk by Handmaiden, 70% silk and 30% seacell--a cellulose fiber made from seaweed. Handmaiden advertises "It is highly breathable and very soft. When worn, your skin’s natural moisture will release magnesium, calcium and vitamin E contained within the seaweed. It has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to protect the skin." Not sure the magnesium, calcium etc will be absorbed into the skin, but at any rate, the yarn feels and looks fantastic with magnificent drape and sheen. Almost done with the first glove and can't wait to wear these. Pics coming soon.


loribird said...

You're a very devoted momma to search so hard for food! ;)
Looking good, when do we see photos of the gloves?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have been trying, in vain to find some Eri silkworm eggs. Do you have any idea where I could buy some from, please?

Thanks, Taryn

Quatzical said...

Hi Taryn,

You didn't leave any contact info, but in case you check this again, check out the catherders yahoo group. Some of the members raise eri moths and although you need a permit for interstate shipment, someone in the same state may be able to sell you eggs or they may know a commercial source with the proper permits which could sell you some. It's a really interesting group in any case.