Information About Cochineal Insect

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What are the characteristics and features of Cochineal insect? Information about the uses and living habitat of Cochineal.

COCHINEAL INSECT, a scale insect that feeds on opuntia cacti (prickly pears) and has long been used in Mexico as a source of crimson dye. The adult female cochineal is approximately Vs inch (0.3 cm) long and normally is reddish or crimson in color. She either is covered by or rests upon masses of cottony white wax secretions in which she lays her eggs. Several generations seem to be produced annually. The cochineal insect (Dactylopius coccus) belongs to the family Eriococcidae of the order Homoptera.

Cochineal dye, which consists of the dried bodies of the insects, originally was used by the Aztec Indians for making body paint, for medicine, and for dyeing textiles a luxuriant crimson. Today, cochineal dye is produced on a small scale on plantations in Oaxaca, Mexico, and in Peru, other Central and South American countries, the Canary Islands, southern Spain, and Algeria.

The cochineal insects are brushed from the cacti, dried, cleaned, and packaged for market. The once substantial market for cochineal dye almost disappeared after the discovery of aniline dyes in the late 19th century, but it has revived to some extent because of the possible detrimental effects of aniline dyes in cosmetics and food products.

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