Two Freshman Biologists Turn Smugglers In Effort to Snag $300 Silkworm Bounty
Caterpillar eggs recently joined the ranks of unsiezed contraband. Two ardent Yardling biologists this fall actually resorted to smuggling eggs from Canada in trying to raise half a dozen Japanese silk forms and earn $300.
Benjamin Dane '56 and Charles Walcott '56 are "experts" in the domestic caterpillar trade. Since September, the two have been raising the multi-feeted insects and feeding them chemically-treated, frozen oak leaves.
Despite over $40 worth of telegrams and telephone calls. Dane and Walcott so far have been unable to locate any live Japanese silkworm eggs in this country. This problem they expect to solve this morning when the reply to a cablegram to Brazil is due to arrive.
Everything is ready at Walcott's Cambridge home to nurse the expected eggs--including individual plastic containers and three bushels of frozen mulberry leaves, stolen from a local backyard.
Sex-attraction first started the pair raising catepillars. They read a Time magazine story in the fall of 1949 which advanced a new theory that "the female moths supposedly attract males from seven miles away by means of infra red radiations" and set about to disprove it. "We think we did," Dane said, "for last spring we extracted the chemical that is probably responsible for the attracting odor."
During this time they met one of the world's foremost catepillar experts Carroll M. Williams. Associate Professor of Zoology. Williams was working on cancer research, trying to discover what factors control the growth of these catepillars.
Laboratory from Heaven
Williams became interested in the young biologists and soon Dane and Walcott were raising and photographing catepillars for the professor's projects and the Boston Museum of Science. Milton Academy provided a fully equipped laboratory where they could do dissections.
After raising a bumper catepillar crop one summer. Walcott realized that the oak season would soon be over, leaving nothing to feed the baby caterpillars; hence the idea of frozen caterpillar food originated.
"We started with oak leaves and used the same process you'd ordinarily use for spinach," Walcott explained yesterday, "and boiled the leaves for two minutes before freezing. But the catepillars had to be coaxed to eat them and didn't grow a whit, so we added vitamins and got better results."
This new use for deep freezes may prove to be an important discovery. If these insects survive on forzen foods, scientists will now be able to grow caterpillars during the winter months.
Both Dane and Walcott declined to comment on the claim that their experiments may actually help prove that forzen foods are less nutrious than a diet of fresh greens.
This September, they got their first chance to raise Japanese caterpillars instead of the domestic variety. The Sales Manager of a large chemical company wrote to the "Harvard Entomology Department" asking them to raise a few live silkworms. The letter finally reached Williams, and he handed it on to Walcott, who answered it and in due course received a reply beginning, "Dear Dr. Walcott . . ."
After some negotiating, the company agreed to pay $300 for the live silk worma.
Up till now Dane hasn't been able to obtain a permit to import the live caterpillar eggs, so ten days ago Walcott and he smuggled some in from Canada. However, these caterpillars won't be ready until next spring--too late to collect the $300.
Smuggling is not the only law they have ignored, the University regulations prohibit pets in the dormitories, but they have six live silk moths and a four inch praying mantis in their Lionel suite.
Virtue seems to be getting the upper hand, however. Walcott admitted yesterday, "we'd better get an import permit; the customs may be laying for as this time.