Sunday, February 19, 2012

Insect produce

Insects provide us with a surprising number of commercially important materials. Cochineal, which is widely employed as a red food dye, and shellac, used in varnishes and polishes, are both obtained from scale insects. The honey bee supplies us not only with honey but also with bee wax for polishes. Silk, most of which is produced by the silk moth bombyx mori in a process that was for centuries a closely guarded Chinese secret, is one of the finest natural fibers in existence, and has long been valued for fine clothes because of its shiny appearance and light weight.
Natural pesticides
The role of ladybirds in controlling aphids is well known, but there are many other pest killing insects. Gardeners can now control whiteflies and other greenhouse pests by buying a supply of minute parasitic insects that attack and kill the pests. The big advantage of these biological control agents is that they leave no harmful residues on the crops. Insects can also be used to control weeds. For example, the larvae of a South American moth called cactoblastis successfully rid Australia of the introduced prickly pear cactus.
Insects as human food
Locusts have always been eaten in Africa and other warm areas. Fried in butter after removal of their wings and legs, they are said to be very tasty and nutritious. Honey pot ants, which are full of stored honey, are eaten by many desert dwellers. Witchetty grubs, eagerly sought by Australian aborigines, are wood boring caterpillars. Many beetle grubs, including the mealworms often used to feed birds and other pets, are also widely enjoyed by indigenous peoples, among whom they are considered highly desirable food, especially when fried.