Lac culture is the scientific management of lac insects to obtain a high amount of quality lac.
This involves selection and maintenance of host plants, inoculation of host plants with healthy lac insects, collection and processing of lac and protection against enemies.
Lac is the resinous secretion of lac insects. Two species of lac insects Tachardia lacca and T.
chinensis are common, of which the former one is predominant in India. India is the highest lac-producing country.
Lac is produced in a number of countries including India, Thailand, Mayanmar, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos.
India and Thailand are the major producers, producing on the average 1700 tonnes of lac annually, followed by China. India alone, accounts for about 70/о of global lac production.
The average of different states in the total quantity of stic lac produced in this country is given below:
- Bihar – 55.5%
- Madhya Pradesh – 22%
- West Bengal – 10%
- Maharashtra – 7.1%
- Gujrat – 2.7%
- Uttar Pradesh – 1.8%
- Assam – 0.6%
- Orissa – 0.1%
Morphology Of Lac Insect For Lac Culture
Phylam — Arthropoda
Class — Insecta
Order — Hemiptera
Super-family — Coccidae
Family — Lacciferidae
Genus — Laccifer
Species — Lacca
Lac has been used in India from time immemorial for several purposes, from the epic of Mahabharat it has been recorded that Kauravas built a palace of lac for the destruction of Pandavas.
We come across references of lac in the Atharva Veda and Mahabharata, so it can be presumed that ancient Hindus were quite familiar with lac and its uses.
Scientific study of lac started much later. In 1709 Father Tachard discovered the insect that produced lac.
First of all Kerr (1782) gave the name Coccus lacca which was also agreed by Ratzeburi (1833) and Carter (1861).
Later Green (1922) and Chatterjee (1915) called the ac- insect as Tachardia lacca (kerr). Finally, the name was given as Laccifer lacca.
Food Plants used in Lac Culture:
The insects live as a parasite, feeding on the sap of certain trees and shrubs.
The important trees on which the lac insects breed and thrive well are –
- Kusum (Schleichera trijuga)
- Palas (Butea frondosa)
- Ber (Zizyphus jujuba)
- Babul (Acacia arabica)
- Khair (Acacia catcchu)
- Arhar (Ca]anus indicus)
Before coming to the actual mechanism of lac secretion and its processing, it is advisable for a lac-culturist to have detailed knowledge of lac insect and its life cycle.
The adult lac insect Shows a marked phenomenon of sexual dimorphism.
The male and female insect varies in shape, size and also in presence or absence of certain body parts.
Structure of Male Lac-insect for Lac Culture :
It is larger in size and red in colour. The body is typically divided into head, thorax and abdomen. The head bears a pair of antennae and a pair of eyes.
Mouth parts are absent so a male adult insect is unable to feed.
Thorax bears three pairs of legs. Wings may or may not be found. (Fig. 33 a, b).
Abdomen is the largest part of the body bearing a pair of caudal setae and sheath containing penis at the posterior end.
Structure of Female lac-insect(Lac Culture):
It is smaller in size. Head bears a pair of antennae and a single proboscis.
Eyes are absent. Thorax is devoid of wings and legs. (Fig. 34. b) The loss of eyes, wings, and legs are due to the fact that the female larvae after settling down once never move again and thus these parts become useless and ultimately atrophy.
Abdomen bears a pair of caudal setae. It is female lac insect which secretes the bulk of lac for commerce.
After attaining the maturity, males emerge out from their cells and walk over the lac incrustations.
The male enters the female cell through anal tubular opening and inside female cell it fertilizes the female.
After copulation, the male dies. One male is capable of fertilizing several females. Females develop very rapidly after fertilization. They take more sap from plants and exude more resin and wax.
Life Cycle(Lac Culture):
The females after fertilization are capable of producing eggs. But it has been noticed in case of lac insects that the post fertilization developments start when the eggs are still inside the ovary. These developing eggs are oviposited into the incubating chambers (formed inside the female cell by the body contraction of females).
A female is capable of producing about one thousand eggs (average 200-500). Inside incubating chamber, the eggs hatch into larvae.
The larvae are minute, boat shaped, red coloured and measure little over half millimeter in length. Larva consists of head, thorax and abdomen.
Head bears a pair of antennae, a pair of simple eyes and a single proboscis. All three thoracic segments are provided with a pair of walking legs. Thorax also bears two pairs of spiracles for respiration. Abdomen is provided with a pair of caudal setae.
These larvae begin to wander in search of suitable centre to fix them. This mass movement of larvae from female cell to the new off-shoots of host plant, is termed as “swarming”.
The emergence of larvae from female cell occurs through anal tubular opening of the cell and this emergence may continue for three weeks. The larvae of lac are very sluggish and feed continuously when once they get fixed with the twig.
In the meantime the larvae start secreting resinous substance around their body through certain glands present in the body. After some-time the larvae gets fully covered by the lac encasement, also known as lac cell. Once they are fully covered, they moult and begin to feed actively.
The cell produced by male and female differ in shape, and can be easily distinguished sometimes later. Male cells are elongated and cigar shaped. There is a pair of branchial pores in the anterior side and a single large circular opening covered by the flap in the posterior side. (fig. 26, a). It is through the posterior circular opening that the matured male lac insect emerges out of its cell.
Female cell is oval, having a pair of small branchial pores in anterior side and a single round anal tubular opening in posterior side.
Through the anal tubular opening are protruding waxy white filaments, secreted by the glands in the insects body, which is an indication that the insect inside the cell is alive and is in healthy condition. These filaments also prevent the blocking of the pore during excess secretion of lac.
Larvae moult in their respective cells. It is the second stage larva which undergoes pseudopupation for a brief time, whereby it changes into adult stage.
Now the male emerges out from its cell, moves on lac incrustation and enters the female cell for fertilization. In this way the life cycle is completed.
Lac Secretion(Lac Culture):
Lac is a resinous substance secreted by certain glands present in the abdomen of the lac insects. The secretion of lac begins immediately after the larval settlement on the new and tender shoots. This secretion appears first as a shining layer which soon gets hardened after coming in contact with air.
This makes a coating around the insect and the twig on which it is residing. As the secretion continues the coating around one insect meet and fuses completely with the coating of another insect. In this way a continuous or semi-contmuous incrustation of lac is formed on the tender shoots.
Cultivation of Lac(Lac Culture):
Cultivation of lac involves proper care of host plants, regular pruning of host plant, infection or inoculation, crop-reaping, control of insect pests, and forecast of swarming, collection and processing of lac.
The first and perhaps the most important prerequisite for cultivation of lac is the proper care of the host plant. It is the host plants on which lac insects depend for their food, shelter and for completion of their life cycle. There are two ways for the cultivation of host plants. One is that plants should be allowed to grow in their natural way and the function of lac-culturist is only to protect and care for the proper growth of plants.
Another way is that a particular piece of land is taken for the purpose and systematic plantation of host plant is made there. Regular watch is necessary in this case by providing artificial manures, irrigation facilities, ploughing and protecting the plants from cattle and human beings for which the land should be fenced. The larvae of lac insects are inoculated on host plants only after the host plants have reached a proper height.
The lac larvae feed on the cell sap by inserting their proboscis in the tender twigs. The proboscis can only be inserted in the tender young off-shoots. For this before inoculation, prunning of lac host plants is necessary. The branches less than an inch in diametre are selected for pruning. Branches half inch of less in diametre should be cut from the very base of their origin. But the branches more than half inch diametre should be cut at a distance of 1 ½ inch from the base.
The method by which the lac insects are introduced to the new lac host plant is known as inoculation. This may be of two types, namely “Natural infection” and “Artificial infection”. When infection from one plant to other occurs by natural movements of insect, it is called natural infection. This may be due to overcrowding of insect population and nonavailability of tender shoots on a particular tree.
Artificial infection takes places through the agencies other than those of nature. Prior to about two weeks of hatching, lac bearing sticks are cut to the size of six inches. They are called“Brood lac”. Brood lacs are then kept for about two weeks in some cool place.
When the larvae start emerging from this brood lac, they are supposed to be ready for inoculation. Strings со be used for tieding the brood lac with the host plant may be of different types in longitud infection the brood lac is tied in close contact with host branches. In lateral infection the brood lac is tied across the gaps between two branches. In interlaced method, brood lac is tied among the branches of several new shoots.
Lac Crop(Lac Culture):
The lac insects repeat its life cycle twice in a year. There are actually four lac crops since the lac insects behave in two ways either they develop on Kusum plants or devlop on plants other than Kusum. The lac which grows on Non-Kusum plants is called as “Ranjeem lac,” and which grows on Kusum plant is called as “Kusumi lac. Four lac crops have been named after four Hindi months in which they are cut from the tree. They are as follows:
Ranjeeni Crop(Lac Culture):
(i) Katki Lac Culture :
Lac larvae are inoculated in June-July. Male insect emerges m August-September. Female give rise to swarming larvae in October-November and the crop is reaped in Kartik (October and November).
(ii) Baisakhi Lac Culture:
Larvae produced by Katki crop are inoculated in October-November, male insects emerges in February-March, females give rise to swarming larvae m June-July, the crop is reaped in Baisakh (April-May).
Kusumi Crop Lac Culture:
(i) Aghani Lac Culture :
Lac larvae are inoculated in June-July, male insect emerges m September, female give rise to swarming larvae in January-February and crop is reaped in Aghan (December-January).
(ii) Jethoi Lac Culture :
The larvae produced by Aghani crop is inoculated in the month of January- February, male emerges in March-April, female give rise to swarming larvae in June- July and the crop is reaped in the month of Jeath (June-July).
The time of infection with swarming larvae, the time of emergence of male insects, the time of reaping the crop, and the time of producing swarming larvae by female etc., are shown m tabular form below
Scraping and Processing of lac
Lac cut from the host plant is called as “stick lac”. Lac can be scraped from the twigs before or after the emergence of larvae. If it is used for manufacturing before the emergence of larvae, the type of lac produced is called as “Ari lac” and if it is used for manufacturing purpose after swarming of larvae has occurred, the lac is said to be Phunki lac”.
The scraping of lac from twig is done by knife, after which they should not be exposed to sun. The scraped lac is grinded in hard stone mills. The unnecessary materials are sorted out In order to remove the finer particles of dirt and colour, this lac is washed repeatedly with cold water.
Now at this stage it is called as “Seed lac” and is exposed to sun for drying. Seed lac is now subjected to the melting process. The melted lac is sieved through cloth and is given the final shape by molding. The final form of lac is called “Shellac”. Colour or different chemicals may be mixed during melting process for particular need.
Lac Enemies and Their Control(Lac Culture):
A lac enemy imposes a challenge to the lac culturist, as they not only decreases the population of lac insects, but also retard the production and quality of lac. Damage caused to lac insects may be grouped under two heads, (a) damage caused by insects (b) damage caused by animals other than insects. Insect enemies of lac crop may be predators and parasites.
The common parasites of lac insect are known as “Chalcid.” They are small, winged insects which lay their eggs inside the lac coat either on the body of the lac insect or inside the body of the lac insect. The larva which hatches from these eggs feed upon the lac insects, thereby causing mortality of their host. Damage done by this parasite constitute about 5-10% of the total destruction of the lac crop.
Damage done by the predators is of greater intensity (35% of the total destruction). The major predators of lac insects are Eublemma amabilis (the white moth) and Holococera pulverea (the blackish grey moth). They not only feed on lac insects but also destroy the lac produced by term. Squirrels, monkey, rat, bat, birds (wood peckers), man etc., are the enemies other than insects which destruct the lac crop in different ways. Damage is also done by climatic factors such as excess heat, excess cold, heavy rain, and storm and partly by the faulty cultivation methods.
Damage caused by the above mentioned animals can be reduced to certain extent by the use of the following methods.
Cultural Method of Lac Culture
The amount of damage by infection can be reduced to a greater extent by taking care during the culture of lac insects, especially at the time of inoculation. The brood lac showing the minimum enemy attack should be selected for inoculation and should be cut from the host plant very near to the time of emergence of larvae (about one week before the emergence). This will reduce the chances of parasite attack on the emerging larvae at new place (host).
The brood lac used for inoculation should be removed from the new host’s branches as soon as the emergence of larvae stops (approx. 3 weeks after inoculation). It reduces the chance of transference of enemies to the new host plant from the brood lac. The infected brood lac not fit for inoculation or the used up brood lac should not be retained for long. The lac should be scrapped at once and t e rest may be crushed or dropped into fire in order to destroy the predators and parasites.
The delay m processing also gives chances to the enemy insects to escape into field. So the manufacturers should try to convert stick lac into seed lac as soon as possible. By these cultural methods the future production can be saved from infection to some extent.
Artificial Method of Lac Culture :
During the crop reaping, it is not always possible for the manufacturers to convert the huge amount of stick lac to seed lac at a time. To avoid the spreading of enemies at this time from stocked stick lac simple artificial method can be used. Bundles of stick lac should be tied with stones and immersed in fenced water (river or ponds) for about a week. This kills all the parasitic and predator insects as they cannot survive in water.
Biological Method of Lac Culture :
It is an indirect method for killing the parasitic and predator insects. For this purpose hyper-parasitic insects are used which attacks the parasitic insects of lac and kill them. These hyper-parasitic insects are however, not harmful for lac crop.
Use of Lac :
Lac has been used for the welfare of human beings from the great olden days No doubt the development of many synthetic products have made its importance to a little lesser degree, but still it can be included in the list of necessary articles. Lac is used in making toys, bracelets, sealing wax, gramophone records etc.
It is also used in making grinding stones, for filling ornaments, for manufacturing of varnishes and paints, for silvering the back of mirror, for encasing cable wires etc., Waste materials produced during the process of stick lac is used for dying purpose. Nail polish is a good example of the by-product of lac.
Composition of Lac
Lac is a mixture of several substances, of which resin is the main constituent. The approximate percentage of different constituents of lac is given below:
- Resin – 68 to 90%
- Dye – 2 to 10%
- Wax – 5 to 6%
- Mineral matter – 3 to 7%
- Albuminous matter – 5 to 10%
- Water – 2 to 3%