CHAPTER 2
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE COCOON

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2.1 Physical characteristics of cocoons

The silk glands of the Bombyx mori are structured like tubes consisting of a Posterior, Middle and Anterior section. The Posterior is long and thin. The Middle is short with a diameter measuring 3-4 mm. The Anterior is extremely thin, leading to the spinneret in the head of the larvae (See Appendix, Figure 1) from which the silk is excreted.

Fibroin is secreted in the Posterior and transferred by peristalsis to the Middle section, which acts as a reservoir. Here it is stored as a viscous aqueous solution until required for spinning. The majority of the sericin is created within the walls of the Middle section. In fact, these two proteins are reserved side by side in the Middle section without mixing one into the other. The fibroin core is covered with a layer of sericin and the secretions from the two proteins join at the junctions where the sericin is fused into one layer. The Filipis glands discharge a liquid protein. To form its cocoon, the silkworm draws out the thread of liquid protein and internally adds layer after layer to complete this protective covering.

Colour

Colour is a characteristic particular to the species. It is the presence of pigments in the sericin layers, which cause the colour. This colour is not permanent and washes away with the sericin during the degumming process (see Chapter 5). There are diverse hues of colour including but limited to white, yellow, yellowish green and golden yellow.

Shape

Cocoon shape, as colour, is peculiar to the given species. At the same time shape can be affected by the execution of the mounting process (see Chapter 3), especially during the cocoon spinning stage. Generally, the Japanese species is peanut-shaped, the Chinese elliptical, European a longer elliptical and the polyvoltine species spindle-like in appearance. Hybrid cocoons assume a shape midway between the parents for example, the case of a longer ellipsoid or shallowly enclosed peanut form (see Appendix, Figure 3). The shape of cocoons assists in identifying the variety of species plus evaluating reelability (see Reelability, page 6). 

Wrinkle

The deflossed cocoon has many wrinkles on its surface. Wrinkles are coarser on the outer layer than within the interior layer. The outline of the wrinkle is not uniform, but various according to species and breeding conditions. Spinning employs high temperature and low humidity settings, which render fine wrinkles or cotton-like textures of, cocoon layers. These provisions discourage the agglutination of the baves resulting from accelerated drying. It is recognized that coarse wrinkled cocoons reel poorly.

Size

Cocoon size or volume is a critical characteristic when evaluating raw materials. The size of the cocoon differs according to silkworm variety, rearing season and harvesting conditions. The number of cocoons per litre, ranging between 60 and 100 in bivoltine species calculates size. Multivoltine species measure considerably higher.

Cocoon weight

The most significant commercial feature of cocoons is weight. Cocoons are sold in the marketplace based on weight as this index signals the approximate quantity of raw silk that can be reeled. The whole weight of a single cocoon is influenced by silkworm species, rearing season and harvest conditions. Pure breeds range from 2.2 to 1.5 g, while hybrid breeds weight from 2.5 to 1.8 g. In nature, the weight of a fresh cocoon does not remain constant but instead continues diminishing until the pupae transforms into a mother and emerges from the cocoon. This weight occurs gradually as moisture evaporates from the body of the pupae and as fat is consumed during the metamorphosis process (Table 3).

Table 3. Daily loss in weight of fresh cocoons

Days after mounting

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

Days after pupation

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

Index of fresh cocoon weight

100

99.4

98.8

98.3

97.7

97.0

96.1

95.1

 

Thickness/weight of cocoon shell

The thickness of the cocoon shell is not constant and changes according to its three sections. The central constricted part of the cocoon is the thickest segment, while the dimensions of the expanded portions of the head are 80 to 90 percent of the central constricted (Table 4).

The weight of the silk shell is the most consequential factor as this measure forecasts raw silk yield. As with other characteristics introduced in this chapter, shell weight differs in correspondence to varieties of silkworms. Further, weight is also influenced by the type of technology used for rearing and mounting. In practice, uni and bivoltine species produce heavier shell weights than multivoltine species.

Hardness or compactness

Cocoon hardness correlates to shell texture and is affected by cocoon spinning conditions. For instance low humidity during the mounting period (see Chapter 3) makes the cocoon layer soft, while high humidity makes it hard. The degree of hardness also influences air and water permeability of cocoons during boiling. A hard shell typically reduces reelability (during the cocoon reeling process), while a soft-shell may multiply raw silk defects. In short, moderate humidity is preferred for good quality cocoons.

Table 4 Variations of shell thickness in different parts

Varieties

Parts

A

B

C

micron

index

micron

index

micron

index

Head extreme end

336

47

302

43

228

40

  expanded

594

83

596

85

480

84

Central constricted

712

100

700

100

572

100

Tail expanded

568

80

590

84

466

81

  extreme end

382

54

333

48

348

43

Shell percentage

As the entire cocoon including the pupa is sold as part of the raw material, it is essential to quantify the ratio of the weight of the silk shell versus the weight of the cocoon. This is calculated in the formula:

This value gives a satisfactory indication of the amount of raw silk that can be reeled from a given quantity of fresh cocoons under transaction. The calculation assists in estimating the raw silk yield of the cocoon and in deriving an appropriate price for the cocoons. The percentage will change based on the breed of the silkworms, rearing and mounting conditions. Percentage rates are altered based on the age of the cocoons (see cocoon weight) as the pupa loses weight as metamorphosis continues. In newly evolved hybrids, recorded percentages are 19 to 25 percent, where male cocoons are higher than female cocoons.

Raw silk percentage

This index is the most important for the value of the cocoon as it has a direct impact on both the market price of cocoons and the production costs of raw silk. The normal range is 65 to 84 percent for the weight of the cocoon shell and 12 to 20 percent for the weight of the whole fresh cocoon.

Filament length

Equally important as the percentage of silk shell is measuring the length of the bave contained in the shell. The factor determines the workload, rate of production, evenness of the silk thread and the dynamometric properties of the output. The length of cocoon filament corresponds to the varieties of silkworms. Range of total length is from 600 to 1 500 m of which 80 percent is reelable while the remainder is removed as waste.

Reelability

Reelability is defined as the fitness of cocoons for economically feasible reeling. Industry practice measured the case with which the cocoon yields the bave in reeling. Poor reelability causes a variety of production problems such as halts in production due to filament breakage and high degrees of waste product. Reelability is greatly affected by careful action during cocoon spinning, drying, storage, pre-processing, reeling machine efficiency and operator skill.

Recent statistics show an average reelability of percent for good cocoon varieties. The measured range is from 40 to 80 percent with serious deviations depending on the type of cocoon. Note that stained cocoons generally have poor reelability.

Size of cocoon filament

The measure denier expresses the size of silk thread. A denier is the weight of 450 m length of silk thread divided into 0.05 g units. The diameter of the bave is not constant throughout its length, instead changes according to its position in the bave shell. At the coarsest section of cocoon filament from 200 to 300 meters, the denier increases. Once more these dimensions become finer and finer as the process approaches the inside layer (see Figure 1). The average diameter of cocoon filament is 15 to 20 microns for the univoltine and bivoltine species.

Defects

A series of minor defects may be found in cocoon filament such as loops, split-ends, fuzziness, nibs and hairiness (Figure 2). While these defects are observed among silkworm varieties, mounting conditions seem to contribute to their incidence. These filament defects directly affect raw silk quality. It is not recommended that silk varieties graded below 90 percent in the Neatness Chart be used.

Size curvature of cocoon bave S: sericin; F: fibroin; O: outer layer; M: middle layer; I: inner layer; D: size (denier)Size curvature of cocoon bave S: sericin; F: fibroin; O: outer layer; M: middle layer; I: inner layer; D: size (denier)

Figure 1 – Size curvature of cocoon bave
S: sericin; F: fibroin; O: outer layer; M: middle layer;
I: inner layer; D: size (denier)


Neatness defects (1) (1') Loop (2) Hairiness (3) Split-ends (4) Nibs

Figure 2 – Neatness defects
(1) (1’) Loop (2) Hairiness (3) Split-ends (4) Nibs

Lousiness

Hair-like projections in the silk fibre are called Lousiness. Lousiness is more prevalent in baves produced by silkworms, which have been overfed in their fifth stage of rearing. Lousiness is found less in breeds of silkworms, which spin finer bave. Another factor promoting lousiness is mounting of over-mature larvae. This defect poses serious problems to silk fabric manufacturers, in particular those producers of smooth satin and necktie materials. When fabrics woven with these defects are dyed, it looks as if the fabric is covered with dust or is a paler shade than the rest. In fact, the protruding fibril is more transparent and has a lesser capacity to absorb dyes.

2.2 Composition of the cocoon

Composition of a whole cocoon

The composition of the whole cocoon is defined as the cocoon shell, pupa and cast off skin shown in Table 5. The pupa makes up the largest portion of its weight. Note that much of the cocoon content is water; therefore it is necessary to remove the water to improve the cocoon filament for reeling and to better preserve the cocoon over a long period.

Composition of cocoon shell

The silk filament forming the cocoon shell is composed of two brins (proteins) named fibroin and covered by silk gum or sericin. The amount of sericin ranges from 19 to 28 percent according to the type of cocoon.

Table 5. Composition of the cocoon

 

Weight

Fresh Cocoon

Dried Cocoon

Race A

Race B

Race A

Race B

Actual number (g)

Ratio (%)

Actual Number (g)

Ratio (%)

Actual Number (g)

Ratio (%)

Actual Number (g)

Ratio (%)

Cocoon

2.181

100.0

2.156

100.0

0.851

100.0

0.888

100.0

Cocoon shell

0.404

18.5

0.458

21.2

0.398

46.8

0.452

50.0

Pupa

1.765

80.9

1.684

78.1

0.441

51.8

0.422

47.5

Cast-off skin

0.012

0.6

0.014

0.7

0.012

1.4

0.014

1.6


The composition of the cocoon shell is given below:

Fibroin 72-81 percent
Sericin 19-28 percent
Fat and wax 0.8-1.0 percent
Colouring matter and ash 1.0-1.4 percent

Usually the sericin content of the cocoon shell is at the maximum level at the outside layer 1 becoming progressively lower at the middle layers 2 and 3 and the absolute minimum at the inside layer 4 (Table 6).

Table 6. Sericin content to different layers of cocoon shell

Cocoon layers

Race A
(%)

Race B
(%)

Race C
(%)

Race D
(%)

Outside 1
2
3
Inside 4

31.40
23.45
20.11
18.12

32.08
29.29
22.22
20.63

34.13
27.50
23.96
21.54

33.15
27.71
23.47
21.33

 

2.3 Properties of silk

Structural features of silk

The silk of Bombyx mori is composed of the proteins fibroin and sericin, matter such as fats, wax, sand pigments plus minerals.

Fibroin in the Bombyx mori comprises a high content of the amino acids glycine and alanine, 42.8 g and 32.4 g respectively as shown in Table 7.

The key amino acids in sericin are serine (30.1 g), threonine (8.5 g), aspartic acid (16.8 g) and glutamic acid (10.1 g) (see Table 7).

Table 7. Amino acid composition of Fibroin and Sericin (Kirimura, 1972)

Amino acids

Fibroin

Sericin

Amino acids

Fibroin

Sericin

Glycine

42.8

8.8

Glutamic acid

1.7

10.1

Alanine

32.4

4.0

Serine

14.7

30.1

Leucine

0.7

0.9

Threonine

1.2

8.5

Isoleucine

0.9

0.6

Phenylalanine

1.2

0.6

Valine

3.0

3.1

Tyrosine

11.8

4.9

Arginine

0.9

4.2

Proline

0.6

0.5

Histidine

0.3

1.4

Methionine

0.2

0.1

Lysine

0.5

5.5

Tryptophan

0.5

0.5

Aspartic acid

1.9

16.8

Cystine

0.1

0.3

Values are given as gram of amino acid per 100 g of protein.

Sericin is a complex protein composed of three distinct components (I, II and III) of which sericin III is the interior layer directly adjacent to the fibroin core. The sericin I outer lay is the most soluble of the three constituents, while sericin III is difficult to dissolve. Viewed as a cross section, the brins have the appearance of equilateral triangles with rounded corners that face each other at their respective bases (Figure 3). 

Texture of the silk thread.

Figure 3. Texture of the silk thread

When the brin is crushed, it splinters into numerous minute fibrils revealing the actual structure of the brins. The thickness of each fibril is less than one micron and they are parallel to the axis of the fibre. A single fibril contains many microfibrils which, when examined with an electron microscope, have a diameter of approximately 100 per microfibril. Microfibrils contain micelles, which are separated into crystalline and amorphous segments.

Physical and chemical properties of silk

1. Specific gravity

The bave specific gravity on average of sericin and fibroin measures from 1.32 to 1.40. Generally, the specific gravity of sericin is slightly higher than that of fibroin (See Raw silk, Table 8).

Table 8. Specific gravity and tensil strength of various fibres

Fibres

Specific gravity

Tenacity (g/denier)

Elongation (%)

Raw silk

1.32-1.40

2.6-4.8

18-23

Degummed silk

1.30-1.38

-

-

Wool16

1.30-1.40

1.2-1.5

30-48

Cotton

1.52-1.60

3.2-4.8

7-11

Flax

1.50-1.58

4.8-6.0

2-4

Nylon

1.14-1.17

4.5-5.0

25-30


2. Tenacity and elongation

Tenacity indicates the quantity of weight a given fibre can support before breaking. the typical tenacity of a bave is 3.6 to 4.8 g per denier (see Raw silk, Table 8). Degummed silk has greater tenacity than raw silk. Elongation defines the length to which a fibre may be stretched before breaking. Raw silk has an elongation of 18 to 23 percent of its original length. Excess moisture increases the elongation of silk, but decreases its tenacity.

3. Hygroscopic nature

Moisture content and humidity are of critical importance to commercial silk production. Figure 4 illustrates the pattern of moisture regain where a hysteresis exists between the adsorption and desorption curves. Desorption measures a greater regain at a given relative humidity. For instance, given 65 percent RH, the adsorption regain value is 10 percent and the associated desorption value is 11.1 percent. Currently, 11 percent is the accepted moisture regain coefficient for silk; the mercantile weight of silk is derived based on this factor. 

4. Effect of light

Continuous exposure to light weakens silk faster than cotton or wool. Raw silk is more resistant to light than degummed silk. It is advised that silk drapery and upholstery fabrics be protected from direct exposure to the light.  

Hysteresis phenomenon a : adsorption, d : desorption, R.H. : relative humidity, MC : moisture content

Figure 4. Hysteresis phenomenon
a : adsorption, d : desorption, R.H. : relative humidity, MC : moisture content


5. Electrical properties

Silk is a poor conductor of electricity and accumulates a static charge from friction. This trait can render it difficult to handle in the manufacturing process. This static charge can be dissipated by high humidity or by maintaining a R.H. of 65 percent at 25C. Based on its insulating properties, silk is used extensively for covering wire in electrical equipment.

6. Action of water

Silk is a highly absorbent fibre, which readily becomes impregnated with water. Water, however, does not permanently affect silk fibre. Silk strength decreases about 20 percent when wet and regains its original strength after drying. The fibre expands but does not dissolve when steeped in warm water. Note that the fibre will also absorb dissolved substances present in water. This is the reason that special attention is given to the quality of the water utilized for reeling, washing, dyeing or finishing. 

7. Effect of heat

If white silk is heated in an oven at 110C for 15 minutes, it begins to turn yellow. At 170C, silk disintegrates and at its burning points releases an empyreumatic odour.

8. Degradation by acids, alkalis

Treatment of silk fibres with acid or alkaline substances causes hydrolysis of the peptide linkages. The degree of hydrolysis is based on the pH factor, which is at minimum between 4 and 8. Degradation of the fibre is exhibited by loss of tensile strength or change in the viscosity of the solution.

Hydrolysis by acid is more extensive than alkali, and it has been postulated that acid hydrolysis occurs at linkages widely distributed along the protein chain, whereas in the early stages of the alkaline treatment, hydrolysis happens at the end of the chain. Hydrochloric acid readily dissolves fibroin especially when heated – and this is used mainly in studies of hydrolysis. Hot concentrated sulphuric acid, while rapidly dissolving and hyrolyzing fibroin, also causes sulphation tyrosine.

Nitric acid readily decomposes fibroin, due to its powerful oxidizing properties and concurrently causes nitration of the benzene nuclei. Organic acids have few effects at room temperature when diluted, but in a concentrated form fibroin may be dissolved, along with a certain amount of decomposition.

9. Proteolytic enzymes

Proteolytic enzymes do not readily attack fibroin in fibrous form apparently because the protein chains in silk are densely packed without bulky side chains. Serious degradation may be caused by water or steam at 100C.

10. Oxidation

Reports regarding the oxidation of proteins are rather meagre since the reactions are very complex. Oxidizing agents may attack proteins in three possible points:

a) at the side chains,
b) at the N-terminal residues, and
c) at the peptide bonds of adjacent amino groups.

Hydrogen peroxide is absorbed by silk and is thought to form complexes with amino acid groups and peptide bonds. It has been demonstrated that hydrogen peroxide diminishes the tyrosine content and further that the peptide bonds are broken at the tryosine residues. Peracetic acid causes more rapid scission and produces more acid groups than peroxide. 

11. Other agents

Chlorine attacks fibroin more vigorously than does sodium hypochlorite. The oxidation is mainly at the tyrosine residues. 

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