Think Smaller

Limestone is largely made of seashells, calcium carbonate. Diatomaceous earth is the stuff made of diatoms' silica. I had heard of this as a budgie enthusiast, among whom it is used for killing mites. Fossil shell flour is also used to cut calories in bread.

Freshwater-derived food grade diatomaceous earth is the type used in United States agriculture for grain storage, as feed supplement, and as an insecticide.

This form is safe enough, though breathing it in could kill somebody, the article says. It removes oil from insects' exoskeletons, causing them to dry up. That does sound rather like bentonite, doesn't it?

And if there are diatoms in freshwater, perhaps they are what improve my skin and hair when swimming at the lake. Whoomp! there it is -- fourth paragraph: "biogenic silica." Point of confusion: the White Cliffs of Dover, formed of algae remnants called coccoliths, made of calcium carbonate. Elementary school, my dear: I'm pretty sure they mistakenly called those "diatoms," when I was a kid. "Diatom-like," perhaps.

My bentonite clay is, as I understand it, mostly composed of a phyllosilicate called Montmorillonite. Other phyllosilicates include micas; "phyllo-" means "leaf" or sheet-forming. I sometimes think the lakes where I swim are filled with little flecks of mica. I'm guessing those are actually diatoms...

...and that the late Mr. Roberts and I were indeed thinking in the same vein. One source is a mix of both minerals, and looks about the right color.

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