Cochineal is a particularly harmful parasite and feared by all growers, because it is a phytophagous insect, which feeds on plants.
Cochineal, whose scientific name is coccoidea, is closely related to aphids and belongs to the large family of Rhynchota. Its name comes from the Spanish “cochineal”, which means “earth pig”.
Cochineal is an insect that is no larger than a few millimetres. The adult male is not harmful, it is useful only for coupling, it has wings and lives only two days, the time necessary for reproducing. The female, once produced the eggs, loses its legs, fixes firmly to the plant and covers itself with a waxy shield, which, depending on the species, maybe red, grey or similar to a white pad.
The cochineal settles along the nervations of the leaves, in places not exposed to the sun, little ventilated and with poor humidity. Here, it nourishes of the sap of the plant and produces a sugary substance, the honeydew.
In nature there are about 7000 different species of cochineal.
Among the most infesting cochineal species we find:
- The cotton cochineal, so called because it has a white back, which resembles dense and white cotton flakes. It attacks legumes, ornamental plants and citrus fruits and is among the most harmful species, because it produces huge amounts of honeydew that lead the plant to get sick of other diseases, such as, for example, soot.
- The floury cochineal, which always has a white back and many small legs with which it moves quickly. It prefers mainly ornamental plants, citrus fruits, vines and figs and once installed on the plant, it produces a white wax that completely covers its body.
- The short-legged cochineal, which attacks ornamental plants and olive trees.
- The red mealybug, a species little considered, but equally fearsome. It mainly affects citrus fruits and, more specifically, lemons. Even if it has morphological characteristics somewhat different from the white cochineal, the same remedies are utilized for eradicating the red cochineal.
- Furthermore, there are species which are completely harmless, because they do not produce honeydew and which have a brown or yellow back.
How to Notice a Cochineal Infestation
Acting in time is essential to eliminate these harmful pests and save your plant’s life.
To find out if your plant has suffered a cochineal attack, there are small signs:
- Look at the leaves and see if there are any small white spots.
- Another classic symptom of the presence of these parasites is the yellowing of the leaves or their wrinkling.
- But also the presence of ants is a clue, because they are attracted by the honeydew produced by the cochineal.
Cochineal: How to Eliminate it
Cochineal reproduces in warm and dry environments, so, first of all, it is necessary to prevent its appearance, avoiding the plant a too dry microclimate and paying attention to the irrigation and cleaning of the leaves.
A drastic remedy against the appearance of cochineal is certainly to resort to a specific insecticide pesticide, with all the contraindications that involves the use of a non-natural product.
If you do not want to use chemical methods, there are several more ecological solutions.
Remedies Against Cochineal
- One of the most widely used remedies to combat cochineal is white oil, an oily substance of mineral origin similar to paraffin, to be sprayed on plants and which creates a patina on the leaves and adheres to animals and eggs by suffocating them. It is necessary, however, to make appropriate use of it and in the right way: the white oil is not to be used in summer, because it reduces the transpiration of the leaves and, with the high temperatures, we risk to burn them.
- If you have noticed in time the presence of these harmful parasites and the infestation has not yet spread and is limited to only a few branches, you can prune them and eliminate the contaminated branches. Always remember to use suitable and disinfected gardening tools, such as shears or scissors, to eliminate infested parts of the plant, to avoid fraying and crushing during the cutting of infected branches and thus avoid worsening the situation.
- The most effective natural remedy is that with water and alcohol or water and soap from Marseille, which dissolve the waxy substances with which the bacteria are coated and prevent them from breathing, killing them together with their eggs. Alcohol or soap should be diluted in water and vaporized on the plant once every two days, in the evening hours. For particularly tenacious infestations, the parasites can be removed directly with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol.
- A very interesting biological practice uses antagonistic insects such as ladybugs and wasps to counteract the birth and proliferation of cochineals.
The crimson red color used in cosmetology for the production of blush and lipstick comes from the cochineal itself.