Silkworms Fumble Obstacle Course

Experiment Shows Incapacity to Readjust Cocoons to Environmental Alterations

Giant American silkworms may not be any dumber than their Japanese colleagues, but current researches in the University biology laboratories reveal that they aren't very smart.

Painstaking experiments conducted by William G. Van der Kloot '48, grad student in Biology, indicate that these catapillars do very well when weaving cocoons on familiar twigs.

But they get all confused when their natural motions are restricted by tieing them to specially constructed weaving platforms. Scientifically expressed, their response to environmental changes is completely rigid.

By slavishly repeating their natural weaving styles on the special platforms they end up weaving cylinders of silk instead of normal cocoons. The two escape vales through which the mature moth must emerge are set at opposite points of the eliptical double layer cocoon, so that the insect is forever sealed within a trap of its own making.

Or when the platform is varied further, the insect will industriously spin its incubation house, only to find at, the end that it has locked itself out with no key available from nature.

These experiments are related to a larger report presented this spring by Ernest E. Williams, instructor in Biology, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, meeting in Cleveland. This work of Williams and his research associates like Van der Kloot was awarded the annual first prize of a thousand dollars.

They hope that the experiments will eventually lead to neurological deductions about instincitive behavior. Currently the Lalor Research Foundation, allied with the Dupout Chemical Company is sponsoring the work.