- Cochineals are parasites that live on cactuses, and the acid in their guts has been used as red dye for millennia.
- Today, cochineals are used to dye cosmetics and foods like M&Ms and Yoplait strawberry yogurt.
- But up against synthetic dyes, Mexican cochineal farms are dying off, taking the ancient tradition with them.
Cochineals are tiny bugs that live on prickly pear cactuses. The acid in their guts makes a red dye used in textiles, cosmetics, and foods like M&Ms and Yoplait yogurt. Indigenous people across Latin America traded it for thousands of years. It can be found on the walls of archeological sites, in priceless paintings, and in the robes of kings. But today, Peru dominates the market, and Mexico’s cochineal farms are disappearing.