from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A red dye made of the dried and pulverized bodies of female cochineal insects. It is used as a biological stain and as an indicator in acid-base titrations.
  • n. A vivid red.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A species of insect (Dactylopius coccus).
  • n. A vivid red dye made from the bodies of cochineal insects.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • 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.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A dyestuff consisting of the dried bodies of a species of insects, the Coccus cacti, found upon several species of Opuntia and other Cactaceæ, especially O. Tuna, O. Ficus-Indica, and Nopalea cochinillifera.
  • n. The insect which produces the dyestuff known by the same name. See def. 1.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a red dyestuff consisting of dried bodies of female cochineal insects
  • n. Mexican red scale insect that feeds on cacti; the source of a red dye


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

French cochenille, from Spanish cochinilla, cochineal insect, probably from Vulgar Latin *coccinella, from feminine diminutive of Latin coccinus, scarlet, from Greek kokkinos, from kokkos, kermes berry (from its use in making scarlet dye).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From French cochenille, from Ancient Greek κόκκινος ("red tint"), from κόκκος, from Latin coccus ("berry or grain") (term applied to coccus quercus, a scale insect used in the production of red dye)



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  • "Animal domestication was not a common phenomenon in ancient Mexico--primarily, it seems, because there were not many species in America suited to that kind of development. Mexicans did, however, show great skill in cultivating insects, including not only cochineal but another form of scale known as Llaveia, which produced a wax used in cosmetics, medicines, and the creation of pre-Columbian lacquer. They also seem to have worked closely with an American honeybee, with butterflies, and with various edible insects.

    "Of all these ventures, the cochineal regimen produced the most dramatic and far-reaching results. Over the centuries, the ancient Mexicans' efforts paid off: under their care, a new species of cochineal flourished, a species now known to scientists as Dactylopius coccus. The new insect was twice the size of the wild varieties and produced considerably more dye; it may also have yielded a slightly more vibrant red. There was, however, a trade-off. Unlike wild cochineal, whose cottonlike nest allowed it to survive freezing temperatures and altitudes over 8,000 feet, the domesticated insect had only a thin coat of powdery wax on its back, leaving it extremely vulnerable to the elements. When exposed to frost or to a sustained heatwave, Dactylopius coccus often died. Nor could it tolerate constant rain and high humidity. Indeed, it was so delicate that an ill-timed shower could do it in.

    "What Dactylopius coccus liked best was the climate where it had been bred: the warm, dry climate of the southern Mexican highlands, where temperatures generally hovered between fifty and eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit."

    Amy Butler Greenfield, A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire (New York: Harper Collins, 2005), 37.

    See also comment on grana cochinilla, which will lead you to uchimillia if you want to skip the middleman.

    October 5, 2017

  • Joseph Banks "placed botanists on voyages scouring for plants in the Arctic, Brazil, Australasia, the West Indies, and Central America. He had tea plants and hemp shipped from China and, with a keen sense of commercial possibilities, he got hold of the Central American host plant for cochineal, the insect from which crimson dye is extracted. Banks believed that species from one tropical location could grow in another, a proposition that was soon to be tested with initially disastrous consequences."

    --Joyce Appleby, Shores of Knowledge: New World Discoveries and the Scientific Imagination (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Co., 2013), p. 202

    December 28, 2016

  • Note on ladybird.

    February 2, 2009