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Cochineal Bug (Dactylopius confusus)
cochineal bug

DESCRIPTION: L=1/16" (1.5mm). Body overall red to pinkish-red, but difficult to see because they hide under white, waxy material they produce. Adult females are wingless and legless, whereas males are winged and legged and about half the size of the females.
NATURAL HISTORY: Cochineal bugs suck the juices out of cactuses (especially prickly pear). They secrete a waxy substance that is white in color that protects them from the elements and from predators. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs are called crawlers (they have 6 legs). They crawl to new areas on the cactus or use their waxy filaments to "balloon" to another cactus. After finding a suitable spot, the crawlers begin feeding on the cactus, molting, and lose their legs. Later in the summer, males are produced and they pupate and become winged and legged. This allows them to find mates and mate.

Cochineal Bugs also produce red-colored carmitic acid that wards off attacks from predators (especially ants). People collect cochineal bugs and dry them to make a red dye. Cochineal occurred only in the New World (before being introduced elsewhere), and the early inhabitants of the New World made good use of the dye in their textiles. When the Europeans came to the New World and saw the beautiful textiles dyed with cochineal, they began exporting the dye. Cochineal became a major export product from the New World (especially Mexico) for many years until the mid 1800s when synthetic dyes were developed. However, because of the toxicity of some of the synthetic dyes, cochineal is still used to dye some red-colored beverages, candies, medicines, and lipstick (look for "cochineal" or "carmine" on the labels).