Entomology (Study of Bugs)/silkworms

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Question
Dear Ms. Kayton:  I'm not sure if this question was sent or not, so I'm sending it again to make certain.  Please ignore if this is a repeat.
I'm a designer and was researching the silk making process for a drapery project. I was told that when silk worms are raised commercially, after they have made their silk ,(I think the terminology was "in the pupa stage") they are boiled alive.  I can't imagine their not feeling pain, but could you please confirm if they do or do not feel pain when they are being boiled alive.  Thank you very much for your assistance.  Ellen Schofield

Answer
They used to be boiled alive.  Nowadays, the cocoons are placed in a dry, hot oven to kill the pupae.  Once they are dead, then the cocoons are immersed in boiling water to unwind the silk.

After silkworms finish growing as a worm, they spin the cocoon and go into a type of suspended animation in the pupa stage.  They look dead and act dead, and just sit there like a lump for a month, not moving, not breathing, not doing anything.  

Nobody knows if silkworms feel pain or not, since they can't talk.  When silkworms are in the pupa stage, they will not react to most external stimuli such as being poked with a finger or poked with a pin.  They are in a sort of suspended animation.  They don't have a brain, so scientists can't hook up wires to the brain to see if the brain generates an electrical signal when they are poked or subjected to heat.

Bottom line is - nobody knows and nobody probably ever will know if silkworms feel pain or not.  When the pupae are put in the really hot oven, even if they did feel pain, it would only last for a moment before they died.  Those ovens are really HOT.  

Hope this answered your question.

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Sue Kayton

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Silkworm expert. Have raised them as a hobby for 20 years. I do not identify unknown insects.

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