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Cactus plants are just part of the scenery when travelling to warmer climates. You expect to see them along with palm trees. Travelling north in Lanzarote to the village of Guatiza you notice there are fields of these common plants. Its probably better known these days that cactus plants are the source of Aloe Vera, as this product has become extremely popular with skincare and has been proven to beneficial for its natural curing properties. The cactus in this area is probably less known for a small insect that lives on its leaves called Cochineal. This insect has supplied our red colorants in food, make up and dyes for centuries.

The female does not have wings and feeds off the plant waiting to be fertilised by a male (which has wings). The offspring are covered in a white substance to protect them from the sun and also acts as a device that is caught by the wind to transport them to other plants where the process begins again. The are normally harvested at 90 days  and dried to make the dye.

To make 1 tonne of this dye you will need 140,000 beetles!

If you do travel through Guatiza whilst you are on the island you will see the white patches of the cochineal crop very easily on the leaves of the prickly pear cactus