What did you step on???

Me and my husband had did a little investigation last night.  What prompted this rambunctious research, you might ask?  Here’s the background story:  About a month, or two, ago, my hubby was walking through the house one evening.  I called him into the other room, and on the way in he stepped on something.  He asked me to look at his foot cause he thought he stepped on glass at first.  He had a reddish spot and said it was really sore almost like it was burning.  When he went back to see what he stepped on, he found that he had actually stepped on a bug.
I had seen these bugs around the house before and killed quite a few of them.  I wasn’t sure what they were though.  One time (small side story here) I killed one of these bugs with thermal paper (a gas receipt or something), and the smashed bug “goop” instantly had some kind of reaction with the thermal paper, turning it black!
So anyhow, our curiosity was peaked, to say the least.  It was some kind of beetle, so I did a search on beetles in Kentucky.  I found some great articles with pictures and was able to quickly identify which beetle it was.  Here is a picture:1I also read about the larva which like to eat dead wood (which explains why we have them around the house).  I have seen these little guys in the flower beds and just never knew what they were.  They are slow moving and good prey for quicker things like centipedes. Gross looking though…sorry for that.2132096So, here’s where the story gets good! The original article I read didn’t say anything about fire colored beetles having any kind of defense mechanism.  It actually said that not much is known about the adult stage of this beetle.  So, I dug a little more.  And I found this picture of another beetle called the Blister Beetle.  The orange variety looked similar to the fire colored beetle but was definitely not what he stepped on.  So, I read about the blister beetle and found this interesting data.  They produce and carry a poisonous substance called “Cantharidin”.  It is similar to strychnine and arsenic in toxicity!!!  The interesting fact I found, however was that certain insects (FIRE COLORED BEETLES INCLUDED) will eat dead or alive blister beetles to obtain the protective qualities from the toxin. They are immune and remain unharmed.

Externally, cantharidin can cause severe skin inflammation and blisters.  This explains what happened to hubbys foot!  If toxin is somehow ingested (for instance, in animals) it could be much worse:

Cantharidin is absorbed through the intestine and can cause symptoms such as inflammation, colic, straining, elevated temperature, depression, increased heart rate and respiration, dehydration, sweating, and diarrhea. There is frequent urination during the first 24 hours after ingestion, accompanied by inflammation of the urinary tract. This irritation may also result in secondary infection and bleeding.  Taken internally, as little as 10 milligrams can be fatal in humans.

I found a lot of bulletins teaching farmers about blister beetles and what to look for because they can turn up sometimes, in alfalfa hay.  Even if the beetles are dead the chemical is very stable and toxic and therefore can harm livestock, especially horses.

I was pretty excited to have found out the answer to our little mystery case.  I have read a lot in the past two days about this and below are a few more links if you are interested.  One is a link to the blister beetle page.  Thanks for reading!  Has anyone here ever seen these beetles in their homes or gardens?  Would love to hear some stories!

More links:


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