Those who have been to the Matenadaran and looked at the pages of the handwritten books have undoubtedly marveled at the beauty of the miniatures. Scarlet red, gives these unique pieces of art their inimitability. You look at the miniatures and feel as if they’ve just been painted. The colors are so vivid, so appealing. It’s the phenomenon of scarlet, never aging and unable to lose its beauty.
These 12 mm worms (Vortan) have brought great renown to Armenia, unknown to many, since antiquity. The ancient “red” that has become Armenia’s trademark is now, unfortunately, threatened with destruction. Of course, we’ve all heard of the miracle dye against which time is powerless, but what do we know? When did Armenians start using it, what has been preserved in the pages of vermilion history, why have the once magical dyeing traditions been forgotten, and what are we doing to protect vermilion?
There are only 3 types of these insects in the world: Armenian, Mexican and Polish, which are widespread in Western and Eastern Europe. The scarlet worm listed in the Red Book of Armenia, or as many call it, the Ararat scarlet worm (Vortan), is a small insect that breeds in the territory of the Ararat valley. It is considered an endemic species of this region. They feed on just two types of plant. These are wormwood and reed.
At all stages of development, the worms (Vortan) are red in color, due to the presence of carmine in their bodies. From September to March, scarlet wormwood is in the soil. They hibernate for around seven months. The scarlet worm produces only one generation per year. So, after a long hibernation under the ground, the elongated caterpillars hatch from their eggs in spring.
Their final formation doesn’t take place until early September. This is when they reproduce. By the way, the males die after mating and the females return underground to lay eggs. It’s during this period that the female worms must be harvested to obtain the famous red dye. Up to 40 kg of worms can be harvested from a hectare of salt, and 150 to 175 red (Vortan) worms are needed to obtain 1 gram of red color.