The cochineal insects settle on cacti plant to feed on its pad by using their beak-like mouthparts to help them suck away at its nutrients. If they are removed from the hosting pad, they will be unable to attach back to another sap.
The cycles of the cochineal insect are:
- Eggs: Their shell is transparent, and yellowish white and they are attached to the females’ back.
- Nymph I: It is imposible to define the cohcineals’sex in this stage because they have the same morphological characteristics. They are deep red.
- Nymph II: females and males are already different in this stage. Both are dark red but the female is brighter. Nymphs moult to become an adult female with a convex oval shape. It reaches up to 6mm and weighs 0.048 grams. Females are covered, like the males, with a white waxy powder, but they are wingless. Females do have commercial value, since they have coloring material.
Females distribution is 20 females per male and mating is necessary for females to oviposit. Adult females oviposit may occur in any season of the year.
The variety of prickly pear by the coloration of the fruit can vary, however the yellow prickly pear is the most suitable to be used as host of the cochineal for being pest-resistant. The prickly pear cactus are infested with oviplenous females, one week after infestation, they are removed. The infestation must be done when temperatures are moderately high because it favors growth, development and reproduction.
Harvest or collection of cochineal consists of the collection of adult females before laying the eggs since at that moment they have the maximum concentration of carminic acid. The harvest can be done manually with brushes and collector containers.
Dye quality depends on the technique of killing and drying. Death must occur quickly to avoid oviposition and weight-lost and decreasing of carminic concentration. Later it must be dried, which can be done by direct sun exposure.
The dry cochineal is classified according to size, once process is finished, it is packaged to obtain Cochineal, which is usually a fine red powder used as a natural colorant.
For more information about these and other colorants please contact us at the following link.