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

White sticky stuff on muscadine grape vines from Chappells SC
August 17, 2013 - Muscadine vine has white sticky substance on leaves and vines, what is it?
view the full question and answer

Problems with Live Oak in Boerne TX
April 24, 2011 - I had my large Live Oak trimmed last year. This spring there seems to be a problem with leaf growth. Most leaves are small in nature and appear to have been attacked possibly by bugs. Many of the bran...
view the full question and answer

Desmodium spp. (beggar's lice) in Leander TX
November 11, 2011 - Our home backs up to a greenbelt on Blockhouse Creek in Williamson County, Texas (FM 1431 and Parmer Lane). The combination of the flood and drought has left our beautiful greenbelt with an abundance...
view the full question and answer

Native nightshade that is a host to hornworm-hawk's eye moth
October 03, 2013 - Is there a native nightshade that serves as a host to tomato hornworm/hawks eye moth? I like the moth and as a gardener do not like the hornworm. I would like to have a patch of not terribly toxic nig...
view the full question and answer

Insect infestation, identification and treatment
April 21, 2008 - help! I have an infestation of small flies in my flower/vegetable beds. They seem to be eating the leaves of just about everything. I've tried to find out exactly what they are, but haven't had any ...
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