Facts Related to Blister Beetles

Blister beetles are members of a family of plant-feeding insects (Meloidae) that contain cantharidin, a toxic defensive chemical that protects them from predators.  Accidentally crushing a beetle against the skin can result in a painful blister, the source of the insect’s common name. In sufficient quantity, the cantharidin in the bodies of living or dead blister beetles can be toxic, and in some cases lethal, to horses, sheep, and cattle.  Animals may be poisoned by eating crushed beetles in cured hay. The severity of the reaction, ranging from temporary poisoning, to reduced digestive ability, to death, depends upon the amount of cantharidin ingested and the size and health of the animal.  Poisoning symptoms usually appear within hours and include irritation and inflammation of the digestive and urinary tract, colic, and straining during frequent urination.

This irritation may also result in secondary infection and bleeding. In addition, calcium levels in horses may be drastically lowered and heart muscle tissue can be damaged. The adults feed on leaves in the tops of a plant but are especially attracted to flowers where they feed on nectar and pollen. They gather in groups, so large numbers can occur in concentrated clusters in a field. These beetles are mid to late summer insects. Female blister beetles lay clusters of eggs in the soil in late summer. The small, active larvae that hatch from these eggs crawl over the soil surface entering cracks in search for grasshopper egg pods which are deposited in the soil. After finding the eggmass, blister beetle larvae become immobile and spend the rest of their developmental time as legless grubs. The following summer they transform into the pupal stage and soon emerge in the adult stage. This is why blister beetle numbers increase dramatically following high grasshopper populations.

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