Body of adult female grayish when undisturbed but bright red when crushed; covered by sticky, weblike strands of filamentous wax; occurring on the pads of cacti of the genera Nopalea and Opuntia usually in clumps in protected areas. Dactylopius coccus Costa does not produce filamentous wax.
Molecular data suggest that cochineal scales are really just specialized eriococcids (Gullan and Cook 2001). Dactylopiids have been transported to all parts of the world as a potential source of red dyes, but are apparently endemic to the New World. Most occur in desert areas of the southwestern United States, Mexico, and central and South America. The true conchineal, D. coccus has been used as a source of red dyes for the past several centuries. Even today cochineal industries persist in southern Mexico, Peru, and the Canary Islands. Cochineal scales have been used successfully in the control of opuntia cacti where they have become serious weeds. Dactylopiidae Signoret was first used as a family by Enderlein (1914).
Cochineal scales occur in all zoogeographical regions of the world, but they are introduced into all but the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. They are most speciose in the Neotropical region, and least numerous in the Oriental area.
Dactylopiids occur primarily on the pads of Opuntia and Nopalea cacti.
Cochineal scales have 3 instars in the female and 5 in the male. There are 3 to 6 generations each year, and development is continuous. Eggs hatch from a few minutes to several hours after being laid; it is likely that in some instances first instars hatch inside the body of the female before being laid. First instars produce long filaments from truncate setae located on the head; they are longest on females and shorter on males. The filaments are apparently important in increasing buoyancy to aid wind dispersal. The first instar produces small amounts of weblike secretions. Second and third-instar females produce large amounts of weblike secretions that enclose the body. Males are common in most species. Cochineal scales usually occur in protected, often shaded areas of the nonsubterranean protions of the plant and usually are in large aggregations.