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. Read the rest