Common Names: Cochineal, Red Dye Bug
Scientific Name: Order Homoptera, family Dactylopiidae, Dactylopius coccus
Size: Adult female--1/8", adult male--1/2"
Identification: Females and nymphs are found on the pods of prickly pear cacti under the waxy cotton produced by the insects for protection.
Biology and Life Cycle: Incomplete metamorphosis. Only males develop wings.
Habitat: Desert and arid areas. Prickly pear cacti.
Feeding Habits: Juices of cacti, especially prickly pear.
Economic Importance: Juice (body fluid or blood) from the bugs is used as a beautiful red dye.
Natural Control: None known.
Organic Control: None needed.
Insight: Clusters of cochineal bugs often feed side by side, covering large areas of prickly pear like a white furry rug. American Indians used this juice to make a crimson dye. Old drug stores used to sell bottles of cochineal bugs for use as a dye. About 70,000 insects are needed to make a pound of the dye. Cochineal is also used as a food coloring (especially in cake coloring) and permanent dye; it is an ingredient in many beverages, cosmetics, and medicines.
Cochineal (Coccus cacti or Dactylopius coccus ) is a scale insect in the order of Homoptera, indigenous to Mexico. A parasite, it lives primarily on the prickly pear cactus by feeding on moisture in its leaves.
Cochineal is also the name given to the crimson or carmine colored dye made from the dried bodies of the females (in the case of "cochineal") or the crushed eggs (in the case of cochineal extract).