Several years ago in an article on prickly pears I mentioned the most famous of prickly pear parasites, the Cochineal bug. A specially-bred strain of this tiny insect produced the brightest, most permanent red dye in the world. In time, it became Spain’s second most valuable export (after silver). It was worth more than its weight in gold, and the Spanish jealously guarded its secret for over 300 years.

The story of this tiny insect and its impact on modern history is beyond the scope of this little blog, but the book A Perfect Red, by Amy Butler Greenfield tells it in fascinating detail.

So why another post on Cochineal? It’s just because I happene3d to get a decent picture of a cochineal patch the other day and wanted to share it with you. You can easily see the insects near the top of the image and the red spots show the brilliant red color for which they are famous. Incidentally, near the bottom right you can also see one of the plant’s tubercles filled with the tiny spines, called glochids, that plants of the Opuntia family make.

Cochineal on a Prickly Pear

Cochineal on a Prickly Pear


About aneyefortexas

Retired writer/teacher/photographer, now photographing the Chihuahuan Desert at the Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas.
This entry was posted in cacti, insects, Plants and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cochineal

  1. jesusan says:

    My husband and I are volunteer tour guides at Hueco Tanks State Park, just outside El Paso. I see lots of evidence of cochineal there, but have never actually seen the bugs. I love living in the Chihuahuan Desert and enjoy your blog posts. One day I hope to make it down to the Big Bend area.

  2. Way to go, Mr. Big Bend! That is a good close-up pic, and I had no idea that Spain used it as a secret dye. For a few years, cochineal was in short supply on cacti up here, especially Abq. Maybe some harder winters? But it’s common again…

    I wonder when some enterprising soul will save all the cacti used in city landscapes (from well-intentioned people spraying insecticide on, or removing cacti, with cochineal). By offering to harvest the cochineal, then turn around and sell the dye?

  3. Ron Thomson says:

    Interesting shot, fascinating back story:  Red dye more valuable than gold.! 

    Hope all’s well there.  Life challenges continue here.  Most recently, my sweet. sweet cat, Vickie, faded out–about three weeks ago.  After living with two indoor cats for 10 years and then one for 7-1/2, my house now seems very empty.  Have wondered about Brother Bertrell (sp?).   How long did he hang in?  I don’t plan to get another pet for several years–a small to mid-size dog in my mid to late 70s, maybe.  

    Recently got a brief letter from Niemczyk.  He’s still plugging. Seems to be getting along quite well in his SF life. Feeling the effects of age, like all of us.  I am now off all prescription meds.  As needed, I take one Alleve for arthritis–knees, hips, back, shoulders, everywhere!  Still, I swim a quarter of a mile most day at The Springs, and I continue to do usual house and yard maintenance, though more slowly than in the past. Ruth was right: Old age is not for sissies.  Or stated another way, it sucks!

    The rent side of my duplex was vacated end of Feb. and still remains tenantless.  I encountered one problem after the other as I attempted to make some improvements.  It will be rent-ready in a a couple of weeks, I think.  Hope to have a new tenant by Oct. 1. Wasn’t counting on this financial drain to come along immediately upon retirement.  Ouch!  Had planned a nice fall trip north, to Montana.  Not this year, alas.



  4. Les Walton says:

    I was raised and grew up in South Texas. i saw thse manty times growing up but had no idea they were valuable!

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