In this photo, you can see some kind of fluffy, white specks on the paddle of a cactus. Those are scale insects, microscopic bugs that like to cover themselves in balls of white wax and nibble on prickly pear. You can also see a fingertip smeared in bright red goo. That's what happens when you squish up scale insects. Humans have been doing this for hundreds of years, using the insects' bodies to create a striking, natural dye.
More commonly known as cochineal, the dye turns up in everything from sausage to yogurt. Typically, you'll hear scale insects described as "beetles". They aren't. And that had given me a totally incorrect mental image of what they looked like, so I thought it would be cool to share a couple of Flickr photos that show the insects in their natural habitat — both in their living and, er, more "processed" forms.
Here's a close-up shot of those white cocoons where scale insects live.
And here's a picture of scale insects ground up by hand into a dye powder. If you want to learn more about traditional Mexican dye-making techniques that use the bugs, there's a lot of good info in a travel diary by Amy Butler Greenfield.
Periodically, somebody freaks out about the presence of smooshed bug in the American food supply and you'll see a flurry of outraged posts on Facebook and Twitter. (That's happened three times that I've noticed since I started writing for BoingBoing in 2009.) Now you know what those bugs look like. Want more? I'd recommend checking out an old post by blogger and entomologist Bug Girl that looks at the history and safety of cochineal dye and offers TONS of great links and further reading.
Image: DSC_3336, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from mhbishop's photostream
Image: Cochineal Bug larvae. Dactylopius cocchus, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from gails_pictures's photostream
Image: The Fine Cochineal , a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from madame_furie's photostream
“A sneezing monkey, a walking fish and a jewel-like snake are just some of a biological treasure trove of over 200 new species discovered in the Eastern Himalayas in recent years,” reports the World Wildlife Foundation today.
Three scientists won the world’s top science prize today, for their “mechanistic studies of DNA repair.” Their work mapped how cells repair deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to prevent damaging errors from appearing in genetic information. Tomas Lindahl, Paul L. Modrich and Aziz Sancar today received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “having mapped and explained how […]
Maciej Ceglowski (previously) spoke to a O’Reilly’s Strata Big Data conference this month about the toxicity of data — the fact that data collected is likely to leak, and that data-leaks resemble nuclear leaks in that even the “dilute” data (metadata or lightly contaminated boiler suits and tools) are still deadly when enough of them […]
Watching Netflix, Hulu or other streaming services can unfortunately be difficult while traveling outside the US. Rather than bypass these restrictions with the help of a complex and slow VPN, choose a faster and simpler solution with Getflix. Instead of rerouting all your Internet traffic through a different server, this handy service only routes the […]
Shake, stir, and muddle your way to delicious homemade cocktails with this must-have bar set. Expect only the finest quality tools from MakersKit — enabling you to unleash your inner mixologist.Top 12 Favorite Things of 2014, Sunset MagazineQuart-size vintage-style Mason jar shakerRetro double jigger for accurate measurementsStrainer & spouts for a mixologist-style smooth pourHardwood muddler […]
The Lytro Illum dares to be different, boasting even more robust features than its first generation predecessor and a sleek design reminiscent of professional DSLRs. What’s so cool about it? Most cameras capture the position of light rays, producing a statoc 2D image.