200px|Silkworm and cocoon
Sericulture, or silk farming, is the cultivation of silkworm
s to produce silk
. Although there are several commercial species of silkworms, ''Bombyx mori
'' (the caterpillar of the domestic silkmoth) is the most widely used and intensively studied silkworm. Silk was believed to have first been produced in China
as early as the Neolithic
Period. Sericulture has become an important cottage industry
in countries such as Brazil
, China, France
, and Russia
. Today, China and India are the two main producers, with more than 60% of the world's annual production.
According to Confucian
text, the discovery of silk production dates to about 2700 BC, although archaeological records point to silk cultivation as early as the Yangshao
period (5000–3000 BC). In 1977, a piece of ceramic created 5400–5500 years ago and designed to look like a silkworm was discovered in Nancun, Hebei
, providing the earliest known evidence of sericulture. Also, by careful analysis of archaeological silk fibre found on Indus Civilization sites dating back to 2450–2000 BC, it is believed that silk was being used over a wide region of South Asia. By about the first half of the 1st century AD, it had reached ancient Khotan
, by a series of interactions along the Silk Road. By AD 140, the practice had been established in India. In the 6th century AD, the smuggling of silkworm eggs into the Byzantine Empire
led to its establishment in the Mediterranean, remaining a monopoly in the Byzantine Empire for centuries (Byzantine silk
). In 1147, during the Second Crusade
, Roger II of Sicily
(1095–1154) attacked Corinth
, two important centres of Byzantine silk production, capturing the weavers and their equipment and establishing his own silkworks in Palermo
[Muthesius, "Silk in the Medieval World", p. 331.]
eventually spreading the industry to Western Europe.
File:Women placing silkworms on trays together with mulberry leaves (Sericulture by Liang Kai, 1200s).jpg |The silkworms and mulberry leaves are placed on trays.
File:Men preparing twig frames where silkworms will spin cocoons (Sericulture by Liang Kai, 1200s).jpg|Twig frames for the silkworms are prepared.
File:Weighing and sorting the cocoons (Sericulture by Liang Kai, 1200s).jpg|The cocoons are weighed.
File:Soaking the cocoons and reeling the silk (Sericulture by Liang Kai, 1200s).jpg|The cocoons are soaked and the silk is wound on spools.
File:Weaving the silk (Sericulture by Liang Kai, 1200s).jpg|The silk is woven using a loom.
The silkworms are fed with mulberry
leaves, and after the fourth moult
, they climb a twig placed near them and spin their silken cocoon
s. The silk is a continuous filament comprising fibroin protein
, secreted from two salivary gland
s in the head of each worm, and a gum called sericin
, which cements the filaments.
The sericin is removed by placing the cocoons in hot water, which frees the silk filaments and readies them for reeling. This is known as the degumming process. The immersion in hot water also kills the silkmoth pupa.
Single filaments are combined to form thread
, which is drawn under tension through several guides and wound onto reels. The threads may be plied to form yarn
. After drying, the raw silk is packed according to quality.
Stages of production
The stages of production are as follows:
# The female silkmoth lays 300 to 500 eggs.
# The silkmoth eggs hatch to form larvae or caterpillars, known as silkworms.
# The larvae feed on mulberry leaves.
# Having grown and moulted several times, the silkworm extrudes a silk fibre and forms a net to hold itself.
# It swings itself from side to side in a figure '8', distributing the saliva that will form silk.
# The silk solidifies when it contacts the air.
# The silkworm spins approximately one mile of filament and completely encloses itself in a cocoon in about two or three days. The amount of usable quality silk in each cocoon is small. As a result, about 2,500 silkworms are required to produce a pound of raw silk.
#The intact cocoons are boiled, killing the silkworm pupa.
# The silk is obtained by brushing the undamaged cocoon to find the outside end of the filament.
# The silk filaments are then wound on a reel. One cocoon contains approximately 1,000 yards of silk filament. The silk at this stage is known as raw silk. One thread comprises up to 48 individual silk filaments.
was critical of silk production based on the Ahimsa
philosophy "not to hurt any living thing". He also promoted "Ahimsa silk
", made without boiling the pupa to procure the silk and wild silk
made from the cocoons of wild and semiwild silkmoths. The Human League
also criticised sericulture in their early single "Being Boiled
". In the early 21st century, the organisation PETA
has also campaigned against silk.
File:Dye in pan on stove. Khotan, Xinjiang.jpg|Dye in pan on stove. Khotan
File:Equipment for unravelling silk cocoons. Khotan.jpg|Equipment for unravelling silk cocoons. Khotan
File:Sericulture.jpg|The third stage of the silkworm
File: Sericuturist.jpg|Silkworms on a modern rotary mountage
File:Sericulture-cocoon.jpg|Silk cocoons on mountages
* Macclesfield silk museums
* Silk industry in Azerbaijan
* Silk industry in China
Smithsonian sericulture historySilk worm Life cycle photos
Category:Agriculture in Asia
Category:Agriculture in China
Category:Agriculture in Europe
Category:Agriculture in India
Category:History of agriculture
Category:Insects in culture
Category:Animal keeping by humans