La Cochinilla, Lanzarote culture

What is Cochinilla?

If you live or have visited Lanzarote, you may have heard of the cochineal but... Would you tell me what it is?

The cochineal is an insect that parasitizes the Opuntia Ficus Indica cactus, or more commonly known as tunera.

The scientific name of the cochineal is Dactylopius coccus, the most outstanding anatomical distinction of this family of insects is the long beak or face that all its species possess.

Thanks to this beak they manage to absorb the juice of the plant, being this its only and exclusive food.

The origin of the name Cochinilla seems to be found in the Latin 'coccinus', whose meaning is 'red'. Another possibility of origin of the name could be based on the humid cochineal, that small insect that is usually found under the stones of the field, which rolls up forming a little ball when we try to catch it. 

The cochineal is characterized by its pronounced sexual dimorphism. While the female, about 5 to 6 mm long and leaden grey in colour, has a chubby shape and no wings, the male, on the other hand, has the appearance of a normal insect in which the head, the thorax with its wings and the abdomen are clearly perceived, as if it were a small milky white fly. 

Such is the difference in shape between the female and the male that we might believe when we see them as two insects of different species.

But the most striking and surprising anatomical character of this insect in the male sex is undoubtedly the absence of buccal organs with which to feed having lost them by atrophy during the process of metamorphosis that suffers when passing from the state of nymph to adult.

The young in their first phase of nymphs, both males and females, are not easy to recognize with the naked eye due to their extreme smallness.

From birth, the cochineal contains the characteristic crimson liquid that has made the insect so famous and from which the dyeing industry has benefited so much.

Read more »