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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Cochineal \Coch"i*neal\ (k[o^]ch"[i^]*n[=e]l; 277), [Sp. cochinilla, dim. from L. coccineus, coccinus, scarlet, fr. coccum the kermes berry, G. ko`kkos berry, especially the kermes insect, used to dye scarlet, as the cochineal was formerly supposed to be the grain or seed of a plant, and this word was formerly defined to be the grain of the Quercus coccifera; but cf. also Sp. cochinilla wood louse, dim. of cochina sow, akin to F. cochon pig.] A dyestuff consisting of the dried bodies of females of the Coccus cacti, an insect native in Mexico, Central America, etc., and found on several species of cactus, esp. Opuntia cochinellifera.

Note: These insects are gathered from the plant, killed by the application of heat, and exposed to the sun to dry. When dried they resemble small, rough berries or seeds, of a brown or purple color, and form the cochineal of the shops, which is used for making carmine, and also as a red dye.

Note: Cochineal contains as its essential coloring matter carminic acid, a purple red amorphous substance which yields carmine red.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1580s, from French cochenille (16c.), probably from Spanish cochinilla, from a diminutive of Latin coccinus (adj.) "scarlet-colored," from coccum "berry (actually an insect) yielding scarlet dye" (see kermes). But some sources identify the Spanish source word as cochinilla "wood louse" (a diminutive form related to French cochon "pig").\n

\nThe insect (Coccus Cacti) lives on the prickly pear cactus in Mexico and Central America and is a relative of the kermes and has similar, but more intense, dying qualities. Aztecs and other Mexican Indians used it as a dyestuff. It first is mentioned in Europe in 1523 in Spanish correspondence to Hernán Cortés in Mexico. Specimens were brought to Spain in the 1520s, and cloth merchants in Antwerp were buying cochineal in insect and powdered form in Spain by the 1540s. It soon superseded the use of kermes as a tinetorial substance. Other species of coccus are useless for dye and considered mere pests, such as the common mealy bug.


n. 1 A species of insect ((taxlink Dactylopius coccus species noshow=1)). 2 A vivid red dye made from the bodies of cochineal insects.

  1. n. a red dyestuff consisting of dried bodies of female cochineal insects

  2. Mexican red scale insect that feeds on cacti; the source of a red dye [syn: cochineal insect, Dactylopius coccus]


The cochineal ( or ; Dactylopius coccus) is a scale insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, from which the natural dye carmine is derived. A primarily sessile parasite native to tropical and subtropical South America as well as Mexico and Arizona, this insect lives on cacti in the genus Opuntia, feeding on plant moisture and nutrients. These insects are found on the pads of prickly pear cacti, then are brushed off and dried.

The insect produces carminic acid that deters predation by other insects. Carminic acid, typically 17-24% of dried insects' weight, can be extracted from the body and eggs, then mixed with aluminium or calcium salts to make carmine dye, also known as cochineal. Today, carmine is primarily used as a colorant in food and in lipstick.

The carmine dye was used in Central America in the 15th century for coloring fabrics and became an important export good during the colonial period. After synthetic pigments and dyes such as alizarin were invented in the late 19th century, natural-dye production gradually diminished. Health fears over artificial food additives, however, have renewed the popularity of cochineal dyes, and the increased demand has made cultivation of the insect profitable again, with Peru being the largest exporter. Some towns in the Mexican state of Oaxaca are still working in handmade textiles using this cochineal.

Other species in the genus Dactylopius can be used to produce cochineal extract, but they are extremely difficult to distinguish from D. coccus, even for expert taxonomists, and the latter scientific name (and the vernacular "cochineal insect") is therefore commonly used when one is actually referring to other biological species. The primary biological distinctions between species are minor differences in host plant preferences, in addition to very different geographic distributions.

Usage examples of "cochineal".

So inventing by the light of inner consciousness alone, he worked up tiny doses of the grey ambergris into mutton fat, coloured it faintly pink with cochineal insects he caught on the prickly pear hedges, added a little crude borax as a preservative, and so produced a cosmetic that was no better and little worse than the thousand other nostrums of its kind in daily use elsewhere.

Dipped ordinary paper in an aqueous solution of sulphate of copper and carbonate of ammonia and then added alkaline solutions of cochineal or equivalent coloring matter.

This method can be carried out in, for instance, dyeing a cochineal scarlet with tin crystals, a yellow from fustic and alum, a black from logwood and copperas and bluestone, a red from madder and bichrome, and the dyeing of the Alizarine colours by the use of chrome fluoride, etc.

The new commerce robbed the peasant of some of his markets by substituting foreign articles like indigo and cochineal for domestic farm products.

Indigo extract, Cochineal, Acid Magenta, Picric acid, Naphthol Yellow, and Tartrazine dye the wool only at the boil.

Croceine A Z, Brilliant Croceine 9 B, Brilliant Croceine 7 B, Brilliant Croceine 5 B, Brilliant Croceine 3 B, Brilliant Croceine M O O, Crystal Scarlet 6 R, Brilliant Cochineal 4 R, Brilliant Croceine B, Brilliant Cochineal 2 R, Orange E N Z, and Croceine Orange E N.

The window was made up of alternating squares of blue and cochineal glass, all but the single clear pane through which Mirromi looked.

At the far end of the passage a flight of fifty steps led up into another room, hung this time with black silks and with a window of blue and cochineal glass - the eastern window of the Tertiary Tower.

When this failed, he utilized a knowledge of Spanish-- casually picked up, like all his acquirements--and was next heard of at Veer Cruz, where he dealt in cochineal, indigo, sarsaparilla, and logwood.

After some thought Robert writes a series of messages on pieces of parchment made from seals' bladders, with ink obtained from cochineal insects.

He sits alone in brand-new Rooms of which he may be the very first Occupant, in the smell of Plaster and Paint and Glue, the Paper upon the Walls an assault of Color, Indigo, Cochineal Red, Spanish Orange, the rarely-observ'd Magenta and Green.

Cochin (he is named EmileAdolphe-Lucian), which, when anagrammed, gives Cochineal.

Its gaudy hue derived from a dark insect called the cochineal, which always resembled in my mind a dog tick.

Hundreds of campfires surrounded the fair, but at last I recognized the Healer's donkey, dog, and the distinctive indio blanket that I'd seen the dog lying on, dyed imperial red from cochineal bugs.

Or are you to hurl cochineal over her evening frock when she steals round with her phosphorus bottle and her supernatural platitude?