Chinese insect white wax.

The Living Age 2138, 13.6.1885

From Nature.

(Tekstiin lisätty kappaleita lukemisen helpottamiseksi. // Some paragraphs added to the original text for making reading easier.)A Parliamentary paper which has recently been published (China, No. 2, 1885) contains a report of a journey through central Sze-chu'an, which was made by Mr. Hosie, consular agent at Chung-king, chiefly for the purpose of collecting information on the subject of insect white wax, specimens of the insect wax-trees, and forms of the wax product, at the request of Sir Joseph Hooker. The report describes the country traversed, its trade and trading capabilities, and such information as was attainable on any commercial product of the district; but the portion relating to insect white wax is the most interesting part of the paper.

"Insect tree "is the name given by the Chinese in the extreme west of Sze chu'an to what is probably the Ligustrum lucidum of botanists. The point will doubtless be decided at Kew by the specimens which Mr. Hosie has sent home. It is also called the winter-green or evergreen tree; while in the east of the province it is known as the "crackling flea tree," owing, it is said, to the sputtering of the wood when burned. It is an evergreen, with leaves which spring in pairs from the branches. They are thick, dark green, glossy, ovate, and pointed. In the end of May or beginning of June the tree bears clusters of small white flowers, which give place to small seeds of a dark blue color.

In the month of May, 1883, Mr. Hosie found attached to the bark of the boughs and twigs numerous brown, pea-shaped excrescences or galls, in various stages of development. In the earlier stages they looked like minute univalves clinging to the bark. The larger galls were readily detachable, and, when opened, presented either a whitey-brown, pulpy mass, or a crowd of minute animals, whose movements were only just perceptible to the naked eye.

Last year an opportunity of examining these galls and their contents with some minuteness in the chief wax-producing locality in the province presented itself. They are very brittle, and there was found, on opening them, a swarm of brown creatures, like minute lice, each with six legs and a pair of club antenna, crawling about. The great majority of the galls also contained either a small white bag or cocoon, containing a chrysalis, whose movements were visible through the thin covering, or a small black beetle. This beetle also has six legs, and is provided with a lung proboscis, armed with a pair of pincers. It is called by the Chinese the "buffalo," probably from its ungainly appearance. After a few days it turned out that each chrysalis developed into a black beetle, or buffalo." If left undisturbed in the broken gall, the beetle will, heedless of the wax insects, which begin to crawl outside and inside the gall, continue to burrow with his proboscis and pincers in the inner lining of the gall, which is apparently his food.

The Chinese believe that he cats his minute companions in the gall, or at any rate injures them with the pressure of his heavy body, and galls in which beetles are numerous sell cheaper than others. But careful investigation showed that the beetle does not cat the other insects, and that his purpose within the gall is a more useful one. When a gall is plucked from the insect tree an orifice is disclosed where it was attached to the bark. By this the wax insects escape. But if the gall remained attached to the tree no mode of escape would appear to be provided for them. The beetle provides this mode. With his pincers he gradually bores a hole in the covering of the gall, which is of sufficient size to allow him to escape from his imprisonment, and which allows egress at the sane time to the wax insects.

When the beetles were removed from the galls some of them made efforts to fly; but at that time their elytræ were not sufficiently developed, and they had to content themselves with crawling, a movement which, owing to the long proboscis, they performed very clumsily.

Through the orifice thus created by the beetle the insects escape to the branches of the tree, if the gall be not plucked soon enough. When plucked, the galls are carried in headlong flight by bearers who travel through the night for coolness to the market towns, and every endeavor is made to preserve a cool temperature in order that the heat may not torce the insects to escape from the galls during the journey.

The wax-tree is usually a stump, varying from three or four to a dozen feet in height, with numerous sprouts or branches rising from the gnarled top of the stem. The leaves spring in pairs from the branches. They are light green, ovate, pointed, serrated, and deciduous. The branches are rarely found more than six feet in length, as those on which the wax is produced are cut from the stems with it. The sprouts of one and two years' growth are too pliant, and it is only in the third year, when they are again sufficiently strong to resist the wind, that wax insects are placed on them. In June some of the trees bear bunches apparently of seeds in small pods, and specimens of these have been sent to Kew.

The wax insects are transferred to these trees about the beginning of May. They are made into small packets of twenty or thirty galls, which are inclosed in a leaf of the wood-oil tree, the edges of which are fastened together with rice straw. These small packets are then suspended close to the branches under which they hang. A few rough holes are made in the leaf by means of a large needle, so that the insects may find their way through them to the branches. On emerging from the galls the insects creep rapidly up the branches to the leaves, where they remain for thirteen days, until their mouths and limbs are strong.

During this period they are said to moult, casting off "a hairy garment," which has grown in this short time. They then descend to the tender branches, on the under sides of which they fix themselves to the bark by their mouths. Gradually the upper surfaces of the branches are also dotted with the insects.

They are said not to move from the spots to which they attach themselves. The Cnincse idea is that they live on dew, and that the wax perspires from the bodies of the insects. The specimens of the branches encrusted with wax show that the insects construct a series of galleries stretching from time bark to the outer surface of the wax.

At an early stage of wax production an insect called by the Chinese the "wax-dog" is developed. Mr. Hosie was unable to obtain a specimen of this insect, but it was described to him as a caterpillar, in size and appearance like a brown bean. His theory (which, he confesses, is unsupported by outside evidence) is that the female of the "buffalo" beetle, already mentioned, deposits eggs on the boughs of the insect tree or the wax-tree, as the case may be, and that time wax-dog is the offspring of the buffalo.

There may possibly be a connection between this caterpillar and the gall containing the wax insects. It is said that during time night and early morning the insects relax their hold of the bark, and that during the heat of the day they again take firm hold of it. The owners of trees are in the habit, during the first month, of belaboring the trees with thick clubs to shake off the wax-dog, which, they assert, destroys the wax insects. After this period the branches are coated with wax, and time wax-dog is consequently unable to reach his prey. The first appearance of wax in the boughs and twigs has been likened to a coating of sulphate of quinine. This gradually becomes thicker, until, after a period of from ninety to a hundred days, the wax in good years has attained a thickness of about a quarter of an inch.

When time wax is ready, the branches are lopped off, and as much of the wax as possible is removed by hand. This is placed in an iron pot with water, and the wax, rising to the surface at melting-point, is skimmed off and placed in round moulds, whence it emerges as the white wax of commerce. The wax which cannot be removed by hand is placed with the twigs in a pot with water, and the same process is gone through.

This latter is less white and of an interior quality. But the Chinese, with their usual carefulness that nothing be lost or wasted, take the insects, which have meantime sunk to the bottom ot the pot, and, placing them in a bag, squeeze them until they have given up the last drop of the wax. They finish their short, industrious existence by being thrown to the pigs.

The market price of the wax is about ts. 1s. 6d. per pound. It is used chiefly in the manufacture of candles. It melts at 160°F., while tallow melts at about 95°. In Sze-chus'an it is mixed with tallow to give the latter greater consistency, and candles, when made, are dipped in melted white wax to give them a harder sheathing and to prevent the tallow from running over when they are lighted.

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