Beetles are the most numerous species on the planet, nearly half of all the animal species described on the big wet rock we call home are incredibly beetloid. In fact one in four living things described are… yes you got it beetles; there are millions of them. You could fill the biggest stadium in the world with beetles, hundreds of times over, which would prove nothing… and at best would result in a bloody awful mess and some rather miffed football fans. If you laid them end to end around the world they would undoubtedly go around many times, though it would be a phenomenal waste of time, and very likely be a bit of a bind, even with the aid of some sort of adhesive.
Photo by SeabrookeLeckie.com – http://flic.kr/p/5wo984
The blister beetle is a smashing example of our rather numerous chums. So called because he secretes a noxious liquid that causes blisters. What’s more he has a rather more racy past as one species is the famed Spanish fly who for the record is neither Spanish nor a fly.
It does however cause the male member to tumesce; to form a tallywhacker trouser tent as it were. Now before you mount an expedition for the Sudan to pick up some of the chaps we have to tell you the downsides. Unfortunately it is rather painful, the blistering effect of the beetle causes irritation of the mutton sword, and leads to priapism; a constant stiffy.
The crushed beetle has been used in medicine since Hippocrates day. In later beardy times Livia, the scheming wife of Augustus Caesar, slipped it into the food of her guests in the hope that it would cause some indiscretion so that she could blackmail. Henry IV was a fan, as was Marquis de Sade who was sentenced to death for sodomy and poisoning after he laced prostitutes with the stuff – though he was later reprieved. The blister beetles were fashionable in France in the eighteenth century, which is quite remarkable as these chaps are really rather poisonous. It was a fine poison in its day as the only way to detect was to cut out the deceased’s organs and rub them on a shaved bunny to see if they would cause blistering, of course cutting out someone’s vital organs and squishing them on depilated rodents is a fine way to check if they’ve been killed.
Though we human parents can only express cold-hearted indifference about what the nanny must have to go through at our kid’s terrible twos… and give a passing whince as their boarding school deals with their tumultuous teens. We should perhaps spare a thought to some blister beetle species parents as their offspring are truly horrific, though thankfully they too have found a way of offloading them on some other poor bugger. After hatching the blister beetle larvae form a ball… a very sexy ball, at least a very sexy ball if you are a passing male bee, as they take the rough shape, and presumably more importantly the smell of a female bee ready for rumpy pumpy. The male bee naturally thinks this a grand idea and dives straight in.
Credit: National Academy of Sciences
At this point all the blister beetle larvae grab hold and don’t let go, transforming a once smashing looking bee into the sort of thing you see if you snooze after a particularly heavy stilton and port session when you get back from a talk at the classics society. Remarkably the male, who let’s not forget is festooned with thousands of hideous larvae, doesn’t have difficulty getting a new date and he promptly transfers the horrible buggers on to his new suitor.
They accompany her to the nest and gobble up all the nice eggs and food she has spent her busy life preparing… they don’t always eat the bee larvae and may simply behave like a Scotch house guest and eat all the host’s food. Though thankfully it is just a stage they are going through…