Red Cochineal Dye (Carminic Acid): Its Role in Nature

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Science  30 May 1980:
Vol. 208, Issue 4447, pp. 1039-1042
DOI: 10.1126/science.208.4447.1039


Carminic acid, the well-known red dyestuff from cochineal insects (Dactylopius spp.), is a potent feeding deterrent to ants. This deterrency may be indicative of the natural function of the compound, which may have evolved in cochineals as a chemical weapon against predation. The behavior of an unusual predator is described—the carnivorous caterpillar of a pyralid moth (Laetilia coccidivora)—which is undeterred by carminic acid and feeds on cochineals. The animal has the remarkable habit of utilizing the ingested carminic acid for defensive purposes of its own.

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