En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Thursday - January 05, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests, Cacti and Succulents
Title: When should cochineal bugs be on prickly pear cactus?
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Valerie Bugh

QUESTION:

I am a fibers artist that would like to harvest the cochineal bugs from the prickly pear cactus. I would like to know what time of year should I expect to find the cochineal bugs around the Austin area?

ANSWER:

Although I've often seen the fluffy white evidence of the cochineal bugs on prickly pear cactus, I guess I hadn't really paid attention to when they were most abundant so I checked with an entomologist, Valerie Bugh, and here is what she said:

"The females live inside the white fluff and squishing their bodies is what produces the red dye. The highest concentration would be when the fluff is most numerous and each piece is rather big and clean looking, indicating mature females inside. Because it is a slightly water-resistant waxy substance, the white stuff tends to last a long time, but I've seen old remains that are dried out and wouldn't be very productive because the insect inside is dead. The time of year for the best harvests will vary depending on rainfall and temperature. If we have some very hard freezes, that will delay the insects' development, as will heavy rains or scorching summer droughts. I suspect that conditions are more important than dates."

Howard Garrett's The Dirt Doctor.com page on the cochineal says that females are harvested when they are about 90 days old.  Considering that mating and egg laying would happen when the weather is warm enough, say mid-March in the Central Texas Area, it would be early to mid-summer before the females would be ready to harvest (mid-June to late July).

You might be interested in reading about how modern cochineal farmers operate currently in Oaxaca, Mexico in the article, "Red Gold—Raising Cochineal in Oaxaca."

 

More Cacti and Succulents Questions

Why are the leaves of my century plants yellowing?
June 22, 2009 - I am taking care of the Agaves (century plants) for my condo community here in Austin. They are planted in 18" or 20" pots. A couple of the plants have leaves that are yellowing around the bottom....
view the full question and answer

Survival of yucca plant mowed down in Oklahoma
April 15, 2009 - I have a yucca plant that came from a very old plant of my late father, and had transplanted it 6 years ago and it came back every year and bloomed. This morning I went outside and noticed my husband...
view the full question and answer

Worms in non-native snake plant from Hillsborough NC
September 17, 2011 - I purchased a snake plant this summer for my screened in porch. I did not repot it and left it in the plastic pot in came it. I was about to repot the plant to bring it in and noticed there are worm...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting yucca pups from Dallas
September 01, 2010 - Can I transplant Pup Yucca plants off of the main yucca and how do I cut them off?
view the full question and answer

20 years to bloom
May 02, 2007 - My girlfriend and i have come up with an interesting question, we were wondering if there is a plant in existance that takes over 20 years to bloom, and how many different kinds (if any) there are? We...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center