It’s famous, it’s delicious, it’s very very red and it only grows on cactus.
Sometimes a prickly pear… is covered with what seem to be tiny balls of cotton. Closer examination reveals the “cotton” is composed of silky threads with tiny flecks of red. When one of the white puffs is removed and placed under a microscope, the red specks prove to be cone-shaped, waxy and composed of disc-like segments. No head or legs will be visible. The “cotton” is cochineal.
Cochineal is a crimson dye, which is obtained from the bodies of insects…. (which) live only on cactus….
(B)y 1876 world production amounted to seven million pounds a year.
The Spanish monopoly on cochineal lasted centuries, leading to political intrigue, murder, espionage, bribery and more.
Wow! Now that’s some cactus bug.
Here, have a picture from Wikipedia.
Remember, these things are microscopic.