Monday, 23 July 2012

Reader's question: What are those ****** little white flies?

JIMENA This reader will remain anonymous, but she is about as fed up as we are with those ****** little white flies getting in her salad and our hair. After careful, extensive research, we discover they are the females of something they call cochinilla del carmín (scientific name: Dactylopius coccus), and very common in these parts, though not necessarily as the plague they are this year. There are not nearly as many as when the question was asked but we were too busy spitting the ***** out to answer. Anyway, we found out that the eggs live on cacti (chumberas), which of course are very prolific hereabouts. In fact, the locals are saying that the prickly pear (chumbos) crop this year will be zero. One interesting thing, though: notice the colloquial name, cochinilla del carmín. Carmín is another name for 'carmine' or red (usually applied to a lipstick colour in Spanish, or to lipstick itself). The male cochineal is red and the Aztecs and Mayas used to crush them to obtain red dye. See more info on Wikipedia. Of course, it doesn't say why the females are such pests - but no-one ever does.

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