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 Pests Questions

Loss of leaves from globe willows in Utah
July 26, 2008 - I have four globe willows that have been in my back yard for the past 6 years. For the past month they have been losing their leaves from the bottom up. We had aphids in some of our other trees and ...
view the full question and answer

Invasive native blackeyed susans from Warren OH
August 07, 2013 - In our demo garden we master gardeners in NE Ohio have been unable to get rid of black-eyed susans which have, like the other person, prevented or "killed" the other perennial plants. They are spre...
view the full question and answer

Problems with tomatoes in tubs in Campbellton, TX
May 30, 2009 - I have my tomatoes planted in big black plastic tubs, they are starting to wilt and dry up. I have put Sevin dust on them for bugs. I haven't been over watering. Could you please tell me why they are...
view the full question and answer

Life with Voles
May 12, 2013 - Voles! We live next to a park and wildlife area: voles constantly invade our garden. We've tried, and cannot eliminate them: rather, hope to plant native forbs and shrubs they (might) avoid. Our site...
view the full question and answer

Disappearance of leaves on desert willow in Tucson AZ
August 08, 2009 - We have a Lois Adams Desert Willow (Tucson, Az). The leaves will pump out and then a day or so later, all of the leaves are gone. The only bugs we've seen on it are very, very small ants. Could this ...
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