The Jungle Diaries: The Meloidae syndicate

July 2017

My last post ended with the death of the Bothrops asper pit viper in my kitchen and because I am rather long-winded in the writing department, left me no time to focus on the misery caused by the Meloidae syndicate that has terrorized the community for years.

Unbeknownst to the US government, Nicaragua has an arsenal of chemical weapons in the form of cantharidin, an extremely hazardous substance as defined in Section 302 of the U.S. Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (42 U.S.C. 11002) subject to strict reporting requirements by facilities which produce, store, or use it in significant quantities. Because this is Nicaragua, there is no safe way to store or contain this caustic agent controlled by the Meloidae cartel, which is comprised of 7,500 sadistic species of unscientifically named “blister beetles” (or “maya” in Nicaragua), so named by the blisters they leave on human skin after contact with the cantharidin that is ejected by Meloidae males post-copulation to protect the eggs. This stuff burns a hole through the epidermal layer of human skin. See attached photo.

Ingesting cantharidin can initially cause severe damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts, and may also cause permanent renal damage. Symptoms of cantharidin poisoning include blood in the urine, abdominal pain, and rarely prolonged erections. And, of course, the possibility of death.

It was hard to not get distracted by the research into a cure for the intense burning when “toxicity”, “Spanish Fly” and “aphrodisiacs” are associated with a bug whose secretions can remove tattoos. I wouldn’t recommend the “organic” method of tattoo removal, nor would I suggest one consume the secretions of an insect for sexual pleasure, but the world is full of people willing to do stupid things for tattoos or orgasms – just ask any ER doctor/nurse/technician/receptionist.

According to the content creators at Wiki (who obviously have never had personal experience with a burn from the Meloidaes), cantharidin was first isolated in 1810 by Pierre Robiquet, who established that cantharidin had definite toxic properties comparable in degree to those of the most virulent poisons known in the 19th century, such as strychnine. It is an odorless and colorless solid at room temperature. It is secreted by the male blister beetle and given to the female as a copulatory gift during mating. Afterwards, the female beetle covers her eggs with it as a defense against predators.

There are many examples in historical sources that reference aphrodisiac preparations of this family of beetles:

According to Tacitus, it was used by the empress Livia, wife of Caesar, to entice members of the imperial family or dinner guests to commit sexual indiscretions (thus providing her information to hold over them).

Henry IV (1050–1106) is said to have consumed Spanish fly.

In 1572, Ambroise Paré wrote an account of a man suffering from “the most frightful “satyriasis” after taking a potion composed of nettles cantharides.

In 1611, Juan de Horozco y Covarrubias reported the use of blister beetles as a poison and as an aphrodisiac.

In the 1670s, Spanish fly was mixed with dried mole’s and bat’s blood for a love charm made by the magician La Voisin.

Cantharides are reported to have become fashionable in France, being known as pastilles Richelieu, and to have been slipped into the food of Louis XIV in 1679 to secure the king’s lust for Madame de Montespan.

The Marquis de Sade is said to have given aniseed-flavored pastilles laced with Spanish fly to two prostitutes at an orgy in 1772, poisoning and nearly killing them. He was sentenced to death for that, and sodomy, but later reprieved on appeal.

Who would have thought bug pee could be so interesting?!

So what does a maya bug look like? If you Google “Blister beetle”, you will find a beautiful collage of colorful insects displayed on the page, many of which I have seen and see on a daily basis. Ninety percent of the bugs I have photographed secrete copulatory fluids that leave chemical burns on the skin. I am not sure how to process this information. They are everywhere, particularly right now.

This isn’t my first Maya experience and sadly won’t be my last. I put on my raincoat, shaking out the scorpion and maya bugs first. I was sure I had shaken all of them out. Thirty seconds later, I tried to figure out the source of the searing pain – scorpion, wasp, spider, carpenter ant, gold metallic ant or an errant thorn, quickly sensing that it was bug secretions.

It caused a huge blister immediately. I put frankincense oil and aloe on it and resumed planting. A few minutes later, I broke the blister while carrying a plant, which hurt worse than the initial reaction. Happy solstice day. My reward for planting 140 trees. At least it didn’t get my tattoo.

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