Cochineal. On the Cultivation of the Cochineal in the Southern States. Cultivation of Cochineal in Malta.

American Farmer 21.3.1828

On the Cultivation of the Cochineal in the Southern States.
Washington, March, 1828.
Dear Sir,
* The Editor remembers well, when a small boy at school at Queen Anne, on the Patuxent river, to have seen the prickly pear growing spontaneously and extensively in that neighbourhood.I send you an English paper, containing an article on the cultivation of the Cochineal. It is very particular, and may be highly interesting to your southern subscribers. The prickly pear is indigenous in almost every part of the United States, especially in South Carolina and Georgia, near the sea shore. I have seen it growing in abundance on James' island, in the harbour of Charleston, and have also seen on the leaves many of the insects described in the article above alluded to.* Perhaps the publication of the article may induce some of our southern planters to cultivate the prickly pear, with a view to obtaining the cochineal, and thus add a new staple to the valuable commodities already produced in our southern states.

Yours, truly,

Cultivation of Cochineal in Malta.

It is not generally known in this country, that the cochineal of Mexico is now cultivated in Europe, and that it is already in our colonies in the Mediterranean.

This valuable and interesting creature was sent from Vera Cruz, by Don Pedro Jose Larazo, in 1820; and during the long voyage, nothing material seemed to alter its condition; and, on its arrival at Cadiz, it was delivered over to the Patriotic Society of that place, in order that it should be submitted to more particular management and scientific observations.

The Society readily undertook its management, studied its economy, and went to considerable expense to extend its cultivation throughout the southern provinces of Spain; and, from the numerous generations which have been produced, the size and good quality of the insect, it may be justly con sidered a new and an important branch of commerce to the Peninsula.

The prickly pear, in the provinces of Grenada, Andalusia, Murcia and Catalonia, is now carefully cultivated for this extraordinary insect to feed upon; and it is now proved, beyond a doubt, that, by attention to the cultivation of the apuntia, the brilliancy of colour, and durability of the dye, which the cochineal insect reared in Spain offers, are equal to the finest produced in the province of Guatemala, in Mexico. The general character and propensities of this extraordinary creature are not easily observed, and require great attention. In common with all other animals, it has the distinction of sexes; but no two creatures of the same class can present more characteristic difference than the male and female of the cochineal.

It is not correct, when we are told by naturalists that these insects fly about, from leaf to leaf, and deposite their eggs. The females cannot fly; they never move after they once fasten on the leaf. — They live by suction, and adhere firmly to the plant until they are either gathered for use, or a new generation formed. They grow to the size of small lentil, or an oval shaped pea; they are convex on the outer surface, and concave towards the plant. The convex surface is beautifully marked with lines and rugged; and, when the insect is about fifteen days old, it resembles a louse in many particulars. It has three claws or legs on each side, upon which it walks slowly when once detached from its hold; it will crawl over the hand, or wander over any plane surface, but when it falls, or turns over on its back, which it is very prone to do, it is as helpless as a turtle. It has a kind of proboscis, or sting like member, extending from the mouth, which penetrates the soft leaf of the apuntia, which secures it in a most extraordinary manner in its first situation. They prefer living in society to wandering about the leaf, although it is certain destruction to thousands of them; for when they grow to a certain size, they push one another out of their origi nal situations mechanically — thus the weaker ones, or those that are deposited last, generally perish.

But this mortality can be well afforded, by the prodigious fecundity of the creature. Mr. Alzate has declared, by a geometrical calculation, that every cochineal contains six hundred and thirty-two thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven young ones. How M. Alzate was enabled to hit this exact number, I do not pretend to know; but certain it is, there is nothing in nature that possesses such powers of fecundity as the cochineal insect.

At a very early period they cover themselves with a silky coat of a milky whiteness; and although many of them, occasionally, during the period of their existence, lose this whiteness, (for they do not all do so, and it appears to me to be effected by mechanical friction of one another, from increased growth at different periods, rather than from any natural operation or change within them; and this opinion is the result of observation for many years;) yet they all retain that whiteness until they are ga thered for commercial purposes.

The male insects are few: in a society of 1000, perhaps not more than two or three males can be observed. They are furnished with long white wings, and resemble, in point of shape, a maschito or spider.

From the thirty-fifth to the forty-fifth day, a prolongation may be observed, extending from the posterior of the female; and about the same period, the males may be discovered busily impregnating the ova of the females. This process is far the most important, for if the males, or machos, are by any circumstance disturbed, impregnation is rendered incomplete. When this period is over, the males wander about the leaves in a most exhausted and miserable condition, and what is still more strange, they disappear in an instant, and no one can tell what transformation they assume.

The late Marquis of Hastings, during his residence in Malta, offered every encouragement for the introduction and cultivation of this most valuable article of commerce on the island, and although every exertion was made to procure the living in sects, they did not arrive on the island during the life-time of that most distinguished and patriotic nobleman. In January, last year, two pots of the prickly pear, with living insects of the cochineal, were put on hoard an English packet, for the Marchioness of Hastings, at Malta. Her ladyship was then at Malta, and the insects never arrived. The captain of the packet best knows what became of them. They might, indeed, have perished in that inclement season, during the voyage. True it is, they have not since been heard of.

However, not on this account was the affair neglected; an humble individual, who had exerted himself for a period of nearly two years, to preserve the insects for Malta, succeeded last August in introducing on that island three pots of the prickly pear with living insects of the finest quality of cochineal, upon them. They were held at the disposal of his Majesty's government there, for the public good of the island, and the individual who had the happiness to be the first introducer of such an important commercial article, devoted himself, without fee or reward, for three months, to their cultivation and management, and felt particularly gratified to see several generations of those insects produced before he left Malta; and he feels no hesitation in saying, as the prickly pear is indigenous on tlie island, with ordinary attention to its cultivation, and encouraged by government, it will ultimately be come a branch of lucrative commerce to that colony. Sicily, Corfu, and other islands in the Meditenanean, are also eligible for rearing this insect. In order the more effectually to secure its extension and cultivation in the island of Malta, government should offer a premium on every pound weight of cochineal which is produced on the island for the first two years, after which period its cultivation would be prosperous.

[The present price of cochineal in this market is $2.90 to (3 00 per pound—being one dollar less than the average price for several years past.]

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