On Cochineal and Carmine
You could say that the cochineal is a weaver's favorite insect: the scale insect produces a substance called carminic acid that can be mixed with aluminum or calcium salts to make a gorgeous red dye (known as carmine). A desert dweller, the cochineal lives on prickly pear cacti and is native to the Southwestern United States as well as Mexico and parts of South America.
Prior to the colonization of Mexico, natives harvested the cochineal to dye clothing, which often was color-coded to designate social status. Once Spaniards arrived in Mexico, they were so fascinated by the deep color produced by the cochineal that it became the second most desired import commodity from Mexico (next to gold and silver).
Today, carmine is found in a plethora of our products, from food coloring to lipstick, and cochineal continues to be used as a fabric dye around the world.