Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Desert Blister Beetle – Lytta magister

The desert blister beetle (Lytta magister)

Travelmarx has gone buggy, or, shall we say beetle-y, lately. Here’s a beetle, the desert blister beetle (Lytta magister), that we saw while hiking on the Eisenhower Mountain Trail (accessible from the Living Desert) in Palm Desert. We saw swarms of blister beetles eating brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) like the one pictured here is doing.

The term “blister” in the common name for the blister beetle comes from the fact that these beetles can emit a poisonous chemical, cantharidin, through what is called reflex bleeding (autohaemorrhaging). As a side note, there is such a thing as a Spanish fly (Lytta vesicatoria) - in the same genus as the blister beetle – which can be used to incite mating in farm animals. Ingested cantharides (from the crushed powder of this beetle) pass through the digestive track and cause irritation in the urethral passage. That doesn’t sound like fun.

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