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cochineal(kŏchĭnēl`, kŏch`ĭnēl), natural dye obtained from an extract of the bodies of the females of the cochineal bug (Dactylopius confusus) found on certain species of cactus, especially Nopalea cochenillifera, also classified as Opuntia cochenillifera, native to Mexico and Central America. The insects' bodies contain the pigment called carminic acid, which is obtained by subjecting a mass of the crushed insects to steam or dry heat; such large numbers of the insects are needed to produce a small amount of dye that the cost is high. Once commonly used as a scarlet-red mordant dye for wool and as a food color, cochineal has been largely replaced by synthetic products. It is used chiefly now as a biological stain.
the general name for several species of insects of various families of the suborder Cocciodea, the females of which are used to make a red dye called carmine. Mexican cochineal (Dactylopius coccus), the most highly valued species, lives on the cochineal cactus. Native to Mexico, it is also cultivated in Central America, Western Europe (Spain), North Africa, and eastern Asia and has almost entirely replaced other species on the world market. Other cochineal species include Armenian cochineal (Porphyrophora hamelii ), which is found in Armenia on the roots of grasses, and Polish cochineal (P. polonicd), found in Western Europe and the European USSR on the roots of strawberries and other herbaceous plants. In the 20th century the development of synthetic dyes has sharply reduced the cultivation of cochineal insects, although natural carmine is still used in some industries, such as food processing and perfume manufacture, and for staining microscopic preparations.