VELLORE/TIRUVANNAMALAI: Two scientists, attached to the Indian Institute of Natural Resins and Gums (IINRG), Ranchi, have discovered the presence of Lac insects in the forests of Jawadhu Hills, Yelagiri Hills and the plain areas in Tiruvannamalai and Vellore districts giving rise to the possibility of economically viable Lac cultivation in the region.
Lac is a natural resin secreted by the tiny insect kerria lacca (Kerr) for its own protection. The resin has been commercially used in various industries such as food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, varnishes, sealing wax, lubricants and insulating materials. It was also traditionally used to make bangles in North India.
“Each kilogram of resin extracted from the insect fetches Rs 150 to Rs 200. It is the main livelihood for tribes in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh,” said plant physiologist, IINRG, Vaibhav D Lohot.
“We have discovered the species for the first time in this region. It will give a scope for Lac cultivation in TN and also provide employment opportunities and a source of income to many,” said entomologist, IINRG, A Mohanasundaram.
Mohanasundaram and Lohot discovered the insect during their four-day survey of this region which they began on October 28. They surveyed Alangayam, Amirthi and Jamunamaruthur in Jawadhu Hills, various parts of Yelagiri Hills and the plain areas such as Gandhi Nagar in Katpadi, CMC College premises in Bagayam and Vellore Fort.
The insects were found on rain trees (Albizia saman) otherwise known as Thoongu-moonchi tree in Tamil and Peepal Tree (ficus religiosa) also known as Arasa Maram and and number of other Lac host plants - Kusum tree (Schleichera Oleosa), Palah or Flame of the forest tree (Butea monosperma), albizia lebbeck, Yellow Flame or Perumkondrai (peltophorum ferrugineum) and Kamala tree (mellalotus philippensis) in Vellore and Tiruvannammalai districts. Lac insects, if cultivated, multiply eight times.
With the discovery of the insect in the rain and peepal trees in the Vellore region, the scope of Lac cultivation is promising. “There are two types of lac - Kusmi and Rangeeni. We have collected the samples for morphology and molecular identification tests. After the tests are done successfully, we will also collect the brood (seeds) of the insect for further evaluation,” said Mohanasundaram. The institute will launch a pilot project, if the outcome of the evaluation is promising.
The team has collected samples of the species from Madurai, Theni and Salem districts. It is under various stages of scientific tests. “Sample collected from Madurai was named as Kerria Madurai Lac. The male/female ratio in the seeds is being determined,” he said.