Friday, December 11, 2009

Friendly Insects

Nest of Green Tree Ants (Oecephala smaragdina); biologist
examines colony
range and distribution.

Dell H. Grecia
Columnist, Backyard Ventures
Women’s Journal

Before you grab the fly swatter or reach for the can of Baygon or Raid, think of creepy crawlies as part of Nature’s healing system. Here, read on and learn why some insects are here to stay.

Like herbal plants, some insects possess their own medicinal value. Or so says out friend, Dr. Abe V. Rotor of the University of Santo Tomas and St. Paul University, Quezon City.

Bee sting, for example, cures arthritis and rheumatism. In fact, the number of doctors and clinics that use bee venom as an alternative medicine is increasing in the United States and other parts of the world.

The treatment is as simple as introducing the excited bee over the affected area, say, the knee or elbow. By holding the struggling bee with forceps, its posterior needle is aimed at the infected area. Once the needle is deeply embedded, the bee is removed. In the process, the sting with the attached poison sac is torn off, resulting in the insect’s death. (This is the same reason a male bee dies after mating with the potential queen during nuptial flight). The poison sac contracts rhythmically, as more poison flows into the affected muscles and nerves.

A. The Mealy Bug

The mealy bug (Dactylopius coccus), which produces cochineal, is another insect that has medicinal value. It is presently cultured commercially in the Honduras, Canary Island, Mexico, Peru and Spain.

Extensively used as dye, cochineal was later discovered to possess properties that allay pain. It is reported to be effective as well against whooping cough and neuralgia.

B. Fly Maggots vs. Deep-seated Wounds

During the First-World War, relates Dr. Rotor, a certain Dr. W. S. Baer noticed that wounds of soldiers who had been lying on the battlefield for hours did not develop infections such as osteomyelitis, as compared with wounds treated and dressed promptly after they were inflicted.

The reason: the older wounds were found to be infested with maggots. These maggots are larvae of flies; commonly houseflies and the blue bottle flies. The adult flies can detect the smell of blood. They deposit their eggs around the wound, anticipating that their larvae are assured of food provided by the injured tissues.

This led to the practice of rearing maggots under sterile conditions and introducing these surgically clean maggots into wounds to eat the microscopic particles to putrefied flesh and bone. The practice, however, ended with the introduction of modern drugs and surgery. To show how effective this practice was, a survey revealed that 92 percent of 600 physicians who had used this treatment reported favorably about it.

A renowned researcher, Dr. William Robinson, was able to isolate a substance from the secretion of the maggots which he believed to have a healing effect on infected wounds, acting like antibiotics. This material – allantoin - soon became commercially available, as its importance began to be recognized.

Allantoin is a harmless, odorless, stainless, painless, and inexpensive lotion which, when applied to chronic ulcers, burns, and similar pus-forming wounds, stimulates local- rather than general- granulation. Thus, it is of special value in treating deep wounds such as bone marrow infection, where the internal part of the wound must be healed first.

Allantoin solutions cannot be as efficient as using living maggots in the treatment of bone infections, however. This is because the maggots actually eat out the necrotic tissues and kill the pus-forming bacteria by digesting them. In the process, the maggots continuously secrete minute quantities of allantoin in their excreta to the very depth of the wound, especially where the use of surgical instrument is limited if not dangerous.

With the advent of computers and other gadgets, modern medicine (except, perhaps, in very remote situations) has finally shelved the practice of using maggots on wounds, and it is likely to remain there.

C. Cantharidin: A Cure-All Drug and Aphrodisiac

Dr. Rotor explains that Dr. Rufino Gapuz, also a professor, discussed in his class a way to harness and calm down a cow that is in heat so that she can be brought to the corral for breeding. This was in the sixties, when artificial insemination was something new in animal science.

There is an injection that comes from the blister beetle, the so-called Spanish fly or Lytta vasicatoria. This insect occurs in abundance in France and Spain, a relative of the American blister beetle.

The beetle carries in its body cantharidin. It was used as folk medicine during the 19th century for all sorts of ailments and also much as an aphrodisiac. At present, it is used in treating certain diseases of the urinogenital system and in an animal breeding.

D. Ant Secretion

With the decline in the effectiveness of antibiotics as a result of increasing resistance of pathogen, says Dr. Rotor, the search for more potent ones has widened into various fields, which today include plants, fungi, and protists - monerans notwithstanding.

One potential source of antibiotics is the green tree ant, a member of the large order of insects Hymenoptera to which bees and wasps belong. Like their relatives, the green tree ants - locally known as hantik (Oecephala smaragdina) - live in colonies. This social behavior enables them to grow in numbers of hundreds or thousands in a single colony, which can remain active for a long time. Other than its reported antibiotic property, the leaf nest of the green tree ant relieves inflammation when bandaged on the affected area.

According to Walter Linsenmaier, the green tree ant is famed as a weaver ant, not on account of its architecture that consists merely of a pile of leaves pulled together, but because of their method of working. When fastening two somewhat separated leaves together, these ants line up on the edge of one of them, holding onto it with legs stretched full length behind them and, working together, pull up the other leaf with their mandibles.

Meanwhile, other ants, with the spinning larvae in their mouths, weave the leaves together. If the distance between leaves is too great for an ant to bridge the gap, the ants form ladders; these not only make it possible to pull the leaves closer together, but also serve as a bridge of the weavers. The larvae secretion may be extended inward to strengthen earlier ties and provide lining to the brood. It is this secretion that reportedly is an effective remedy against wound infection and inflammation.

E. New Frontiers

Dr. Rotor has listed down some new frontiers in the insect world as cures to various pathogens, to wit:

• Anti-venom and poison antidotes are derived from Hymenopterans. Many victims die of insect bite every year that there is a need to develop a ready source of anti-venom vaccine and antidote. Can insect venom also apply to other kinds of poisoning?

• The secret of hibernation among insects can serve as a model for cryonics science in humans. To cross the vast space in future interplanetary travel, man will have to defy time and aging. One means is through planned hibernation.

• Parthenogenesis is an unusual reproduction of immature insects without the benefit of sexual reproduction. Could this “virgin birth” apply to higher animals and humans? When threatened by lack of food and inclement weather conditions, aphids reproduce even before reaching full maturity and without the involvement of gametes.

• Insects that are highly resistant to putrefaction such as among Dipterans may be the key to cancer prevention and treatment. Blue bottle fly maggots can survive acidity up to 10 percent. Hence, they are found to breed in vinegar and fish sauce substrate without apparent harmful effect to the process and end products.

• The burning and obnoxious secretions of certain insects, particularly Hemipterans, have yet to be developed as repellant against other pests.

• In the case fireflies and glow worms, the substance luciferin emits virtually 100-percent light without emission of heat. This substance has many possible uses in industry and medicine as tracer.

• The high protein content of certain insects like termites, silk worm larvae, and grasshoppers (three to four times higher than beef, milk and eggs) has great promise in the development of high-value food. Protein capsules, for example, can be made convenient for those who lead busy lives.

• Chitin of insects is the envy of plastic manufacturers. It is much stronger, yet very much lighter. Its many uses include the control of nematodes using chitin preparations. Chinese doctors recommend insect exoskeleton as a remedy for a hundred and one ailments.

Dr. Rotor concludes that insects, the most numerous and oldest of all animals on earth, have reasons for their existence. Although they are generally regarded as notorious destroyers, the truth is that our well-being hinges much on their presence and persistence. They are part of Nature’s healing system. ~

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