Back to Biodiversity Explorer main pageGo to Iziko Museums of Cape Town home pageAbout Biodiversity Explorer - history, goals, etc.Send us your questions about southern African biodiversityPeople who have contributed content and images.Search Biodiversity Explorer

Opuntia monacantha (Cochineal prickly pear, Drooping prickly pear)

[= Opuntia vulgaris]

Suurturksvy, Luisiesturksvy [Afrikaans]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Core Eudicots > Order: Caryophyllales > Familty: Cactaceae > Genus: Opuntia

Native to Central America. A declared Category 1 invasive plants in South Africa.

Ecological interactions in southern Africa


  • Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae: Phycitinae). The orange and black striped larvae of this moth eat the parenchymous tissue inside the cladodes of a wide variety of Opuntia species, including Opuntia monacantha. It was introduced to South Africa in 1933 for the biological control of Opuntia ficus-indica.
  • Dactylopius ceylonicus (Hemiptera: Dactylopiidae). Released in South Africa in 1913 for the biological control of Opuntia monacantha (then called Opuntia vulgaris), causing extensive damage (Klein 2011). Dactylopius species are collectively known as cochineal insects and are all characterised by having vivid red body contents that from Dactylopius coccus has been used for producing cochineal dye. The females suck the juices from the cactus and are easily noticed on the plant because of their untidy covering of waxy filaments, looking rather like blobs of cotton wool.


  • Klein H. 2011. A catalogue of the insects, mites and pathogens that have been used or rejected, or are under consideration, for the biological control of invasive alien plants in South Africa. African Entomology 19(2): 515-549.

Text by Hamish Robertson

Contact us if you can contribute information or images to improve this page.

Biodiversity Explorer home   Iziko home   Search