A Silkworm Population Explosion at the Museum

Historical Article Series April 6, 2020 > A Silkworm Population Explosion at the Museum

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 38, No. 5, September 2002

During the summer months I raised three crops of silkworms for display at the museum.  Two of them were surprises.  Crop #1 was from the fresh eggs that I ordered in May.  Crop #2 came from last year’s eggs that had been in my refrigerator over the winter.  I had used some of these eggs as part of the silkworm display, but first I placed them in the freezer to ensure that they wouldn’t hatch.  Lo and behold, twenty of them hatched despite being frozen!  Silkworms are hardier than I thought! 

Silkworm Explosion
Just one box of silkworms – several more boxes lined my dining room table!

Crop #3 was my Fourth of July surprise.  These were the progeny of Crop #1.  The hot weather over of the holiday weekend apparently sped up their life cycle.  The eggs hatched prematurely, before I could get them into the refrigerator.  Suddenly I had hundreds if not thousands of hungry mouths to feed.  That was many more than I could sustain so I had to discard most of them.  I placed a large mulberry leaf in the box and those that climbed onto it were the ones that I saved.  It turned out that I had “rescued” over 300 silkworms – a big mistake!

 I spent the next three weeks trying to find adoptive homes for my excess silkworms.  I shared my “wealth” with the Manchester Historical Society, Holiday Hill Day Camp, the Biology Department at UConn and with interested visitors who had access to a mulberry tree.

Despite my best efforts I was still left with 100 to feed.  After weeks of making nightly visits to three different trees to harvest mulberry leaves and the daily chores of feeding the silkworms and cleaning up their messes, I marvel at how the Mansfield women of 200 year ago survived the season.  According to an essay written in 1830 by John D’Homergue, a French silk manufacturer, and Peter S. Duponceau (reproduced in the September 2001 issue of our newsletter), the citizens of Mansfield had to produce 20 pounds of cocoons to yield one pound of raw silk.  This was due to the great amount of waste involved in the hand-reeling of silk.  Judging by the cocoons that I order for my school demonstrations, there are approximately 600 cocoons in a pound.  That means that those early Mansfield sericulturists were raising some 12,000 silkworms for every pound of silk that they produced.  Many families were raising ten or more pounds of silk.  I shudder to think of it!

Ann Galonska, Museum Director

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