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Cochineal Insect (Beetle), Dactylopius confusus.

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Purple Prickly Pear Cactus.  Opuntia violacea var. santa-rita. Also called: Opuntia macrocentra var. macrocentra, Opuntia violacea var. castetteri, Opuntia violacea var. macrocentra, Santa Rita Pricklypear, Blue Blade, Dollar Cactus, Black Spine Prickly Pear, Red Joint Prickly Pear, Texas Santa Rita.
Purple Prickly Pear, Opuntia violacea var. santa-rita.
Healthy, Uninfected Cactus: Photo Taken At Peoria. April 21, 2005.
Cochineal Beetle, Dactylopius confusus. Arizona Wild Flowers. Pictures, Photos, Images, Descriptions, Information, Reviews.Cochineal Beetle, Dactylopius confusus. Arizona Wild Flowers. Pictures, Photos, Images, Descriptions, Information, Reviews.
Infected Prickly Pear Cactus.
Cochineal Beetle,
Dactylopius confusus
June 14, 2005 Peoria, Arizona
Red Dye From Crushed
Cochineal Beetle,
Dactylopius confusus
June 14, 2005 Peoria, Arizona

Cochineal Insect.
Dactylopius confusus, Dactylopiidae Family ( Dactylopiidae ), Cochineal Insect. Also called: Cochineal Beetle or Bug.

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Today with the use of Prickly Pear Cactus in many of the gardens and yards of the residents of the Arizona Desert Areas, homeowners complain of a white wool like substance all over their Prickly Pear Cactus. This "infection" seems to affect only Pricly Pears, but it can affect others.

Therefore, we thought we should explain what this wool like or web like substance is and that we might show some photos of this substance for your consideration. We hope you find this as interesting as we do.

The wool like substance comes from the female Cochineal Insect. She inserts her proboscis, a tube, into the pad of Prickly Pear Cactus for obtaining nourishment, and secretes a white, web-like, wax-based material over the area for camouflage and to prevent desiccation.

When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in the early 1500s, they were amazed by the brilliant red-dyed clothing worn by the natives. Europe had red dyes, but nothing could compare with the brilliant scarlet of the Aztec cloth.

The secret was the Cochineal Insect, that lived on the flattened pads of certain prickly pear cactus. The Aztecs called the dye nocheztli, for they found it on the divine cactus, teo-nochtli.

The Spanish took the dye back with them to Europe developing and maintaining a monopoly on the dye which they guarded as a state secret. They gained a great deal of wealth from this dye and only the rich and powerful could afford the "royal" dye.

When explorers from the other European nations came to the New World to learn the secret of the dye, they had been misled by the Spanish into looking for seeds instead of insects.

Thus, the Spanish monopoly on cochineal production was not broken until the year 1777, when a French naturalist smuggled Mexican cactus pads into Haiti with cochineal scales on them.

Today the Cochineal Insects are still "farmed" on small cactus plantations in Mexico, Guatemala and the Canary Islands.

To prepare the dye, female cochineal beetles are brushed from the cactus pads, dried, and the bright red pigments were extracted from their dried bodies. One pound of dye is produced from about 70,000 beetle bodies.

Cochineal - covered Prickly Pear cacti were also introduced into Australia for this valuable dye. Unfortunately, by 1925, about 60 million acres of range land was covered by Prickly Pear cactus. To control the spread of Prickly Pear cactus in Australia, the cactus moth (Cactoblastis cactorum) was introduced, and by 1930, thanks to the voracious larvae, vast areas of the Prickly Pear cactus has been destroyed.

The very bright red dye, carmine used in microbiology is also made from the crushed bodies of Cochineal Beetles.

Today the dye is still being used used in a small scale to produce a wide variety of pigments, including paints, food coloring, clothing dyes, rouge, and lipsticks.


Quick Notes:

Description: Female 1/16 - 1/8 inch; male 1/2 length. With red to deep red to pink waxy scales under body. Often concealed by dense tangled strands of white cottony wax. Legs reduced. The male has 2 diverging filaments trailing from it's rear end and long white wings. Males only live about one week.

Food: Juices of cacti, especially prickly pear.

Life Cycle: Nymphs escape from beneath body of dead female and begin feeding. Females mature in place without moving after the first molting, and they feed in all stages. Males do not feed in the last nymphal stage, nor perhaps even as adults.

Habitat: Deserts and arid areas. Including Xeriscape Landscaping at lower elevations in Arizona.

Elevation: This beetle seems to live at lower elevations which are not subjected to freezing temperatures for long periods of time. Below about 1900 feet.

Found: New Mexico, Arizona, South into Mexico, Northwest to California; also in Montana, Colorado, and Florida.

Miscellaneous: Conspicuous clusters of Cochineal Bugs often feed side by side, they are under a covering that looks like a white furry rug. Often covering large areas of cacti. They especially like Prickly Pear Cactus.

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