|Peyote Plants (1)|
This name encompasses the category of chemicals that living organisms make which are not used in their normal growth, development, or reproduction. They are a staggering array of chemical structures and properties. Antibiotics are largely produced by bacteria, and a large variety of mammalian toxins are of fungal origin. Pigments are produced by both botanicals and insects. The peyote cactus, Lophophora williamsii, produces the hallucinogenic alkaloid mescaline. Fugu, the Chinese puffer fish, harbor symbiotically produced tetrodotoxin.
|Puffer Fish at Japanese Market (2)|
|Cacti with Cochineal (3)|
|Cochineal Cluster (3)|
The females of this American species that feeds on cactus provide the popular Latino name “red worm.” Interestingly, Dactylopius coccus is not actually a worm, but is part of the cochineal family. By dry weight, the females can produce an astounding double digit percentage of pigment. The pigments have great variation of color and intensity (Carminic Acid extinction coefficient 6800, Laccaic Acid A extinction coefficient 43700). The commercial growers of the pigment use the cactus Indian Fig Opuntia (Opuntia ficus-indica) to feed the caterpillars, whose fruit and tender young shoots are also popular in Latino diets. The same insects in a blue agave farm are considered a pest.
Further Reading and Photo Credits:
2) Puffer fish Photo by Mikael:
3) Cochineal Photos from Wikipedia: