prickly pear tuna and cochineal

Cochineal colonizing the prickly pear cactus tunas in my neighborhood. A couple of years ago, I went to a cochineal farm in Oaxaca where they farm the cochineal insects for their red dye.  In greenhouses they plant the cactus in shallow dirt beds on large tables. They then inoculate the prickly pear cactus with the insects. The cactus pads full of cochineal are quite beautiful. A thin layer of cochineal dust covers the entire pad, and the pads themselves reminded me of the milky way on a clear night.

A designer insect? Bee? What a beautiful graphic yellow/black pattern. And no fear of those pesky glochids or spines!

Posted by deborah small


  1. That is the western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica



  2. Cochineal was actually so highly prized in Europe in the 16th century, that the dried bodies of these little insects were actually worth about their own weight in gold. Many tons of the dried cochineal powder was transported to Europe where it made the brilliant red dye that could not be found beforehand in Europe..

    I love the images on this site… and the information too! Keep up the good work of educating in such a pleasant way.



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