The carmine cochineal (Dactylopius coccus Costa) has high economic value as it is a natural source of carminic acid, an organic chromophore used in a wide range of sectors including pharmaceutics, food, and cosmetics. High demand is fuelling the search for innovative production techniques in order to move away from dependence on the prickly pear, which carries a number of limitations. The aim of this study was to establish cochineal colonies and breed and mass-produce the insects using two laboratory-scale production systems. The first system (STC-01) comprised a prismatic acrylic box with three compartments; synthetic matrices were placed vertically inside the box to provide support and a source of nutrients for the cochineal, and the system was lit artificially during fixed daylight periods. The second system (STC-02) comprised an automated micro-tunnel allowing the insects to move towards the sunlight, containing synthetic matrices arranged horizontally. There was a significant difference in yield between the two systems in a cochineal total life cycle of 120 d (80-90 d harvest period in both cases), with STC-01 being superior and producing a maximum yield of 4.86 ± 0.68 g fresh weight per day per square metre compared with 3.20 ± 0.14 g fresh weight per day per square metre production yield in STC-02. We conclude that cochineal production under controlled artificial conditions is feasible and sustainable, removing the need for natural and biological support and overcoming the environmental limitations posed by traditional production methods.
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© 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Entomological Society of America.