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

Eradicating cactus in Palo Pinto County, TX
March 30, 2010 - I live on a ranch in Palo Pinto County and would like to know how can I get rid of wild cactus.
view the full question and answer

Speeding up growth of Hesperaloe parviflora (red yucca)
January 12, 2012 - I have germinated Hesperaloe parviflora, Red Yucca, for our Caddo Native plant sale. I have kept in the cool greenhouse for 2 months and they are about 2 inches. A friend put one outside and they froz...
view the full question and answer

Are Agave Seed Pods Poisonous
September 27, 2010 - Are the seed pods, found in clusters, hanging from century plants(agave) poisonous to kids or dogs? They are large, light green, and shaped like fat bananas.
view the full question and answer

Propagation of an agave from Dripping Springs TX
April 30, 2014 - Hi there, I have a Century Agave in my backyard. It is over 6 feet tall and is now producing the center stalk. I understand that means the plant is going to die. My question is how to harvest the pups...
view the full question and answer

Non-native jade plants and spider plants beneath Mayberry tree in Bay Point CA
October 15, 2013 - I have a fruitless Mayberry in my back yard that's about 50/50' can I plant jade and spider plants under it? The tree is very healthy.
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 | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center