Useful Products

 

1.  Cochineal dye.   For hundreds of years, a very deep red dye has been extreated from a special kind of insect, the cochineal scale.    Cochineal scale insects feed on cactus and are covered by a hard waxy shell that helps to protect them from predators.   They also produce carminic acid to help keep predators away.  The carminic acid, when extracted from the insect (by crushing) will dye fabrics a light red to crimson color.   If purified  with chemicals, the dye color can be more intense. Cochineal has traditionally been used to dye fabrics, but is now also used to provide color to cosmetics and food.   

 

2.  Shellac.   Another scale insect, called a lac scale sucks tree sap and excrete a sticky substance that is scraped from trees, and ground to a powder when dry.   When ready to be used, the powder is dissolved in ethyl alcohol to make shellac.   Shellac has many uses but is best know as a wood finish.

 

3. Honey.  As you know, this is a sweet substance made by honey bees from the nectar of plants.  Honey bees are  very hard working insects, and they have to visit more than 2 million flowers to get enough nectar to make just 1 pound of honey.   Bees make and store honey in the comb in their hive.   It is used for food when flowers are not growing.   Bee keepers take the excess honey from the hives, extract it from the comb, and bottle it for sale.

Honey is not only used for food, it has medicinal uses for treating cuts to prevent infections, or soothing a sore throat.   It is also used in beauty products, and as a natural energy booster.

4. Silk.    This material is produced by the salivary glands of certain insects, primarily caterpillars that use it to protect themselves as they enter the vulnerable pupal to change from a caterpillar to a moth or butterfly.     While caterpillars produce silk, the favored insect used for silk production is the giant silk moth, Bombyx mori, from China.

Silk production, or sericulture, is an involved process.   It starts with raising the caterpillars once they hatch from eggs, and feeding them mulberry leaves until they grow and are ready to pupate and they spin their cocoons.   After the cocoons are formed, they are gathered and dumped into a pot of boiling water as the initial process to creating fabric.  Each cocoon is made from several thousand feet of a very fine thread.   These fine threads are spun together to form a larger thread with can be dyed and used to weave fabric.     Over two thousand silkworms are needed to produce one pound of silk.