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Saguaro Land: A bug that's big in the textile world

Saguaro Land is a series from The Show looking at the Sonoran Desert — the lushest, hottest desert in the world that happens to be our home.

In our newest installment, we’re finding color from a somewhat unusual source. If you have paddle cactus in your yard, like prickly pear, you may have noticed a white, almost web-like substance on the surface.

But what you can’t notice, at least just by looking, is that that web conceals a type of bug that’s played a critical role in the textile world for a long, long time. Cochineal has been a source of red dye for thousands of years and still is used today.

To get a sense of the insect’s history and role in our ecosystem, The Show sat down with Erika Lynne Hanson, an associate professor of Textiles and Socially Engaged Practices at Arizona State University —  who brought some show-and-tell along, as well.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.