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
Princeton University psych prof Susan Fiske published an open letter denouncing the practice of using social media to call out statistical errors in psychology research, describing the people who do this as “terrorists” and arguing that this was toxic because of the structure of social science scholarship, having an outsized effect on careers.
Blue writes, “Peter Watts has be stricken with debilitating pain, loss of range of motion and motor control. Watts’ doctors remain baffled despite a battery of tests, and Watts has reached out to his fans to ask for their theories and ideas as to what might be causing his illness.”
Today, I’ve launched a very special Kickstarter with two friends, Timothy Daly and Lawrence Azerrad. A year in the making (and many more years on our minds), the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition is the first vinyl release of the stunning golden phonograph record launched by NASA in 1977 aboard the Voyager spacecraft, one […]
With the iPhone headphone jack having gone by the wayside, we’re excited about the addition of the FRANKLIN Bluetooth Headphones in our store. These headphones are foldable so they’re easy to carry around, but most importantly, they pack impressive sound. Our biggest struggle with Bluetooth headphones is the worry of them dying at the worst moment. This pair lasts an impressive 8-10 […]
Evan Kimbrell, founder of the digital agency Sprintkick, recently released a series of online courses that feature some of the best advice we’ve come across. These courses are well worth your time, and will save you from making many typical mistakes down the line if you ever want to start your own business.With this Business […]
Handy is the most convenient solution we’ve found for booking a house cleaning at the last minute, and they do a really great job. It’s as easy as heading to the site, selecting a date and time that works for you and the number of rooms in your home. We’ve even scheduled emergency cleanings as soon as the following day. […]