The beetle is a thing of beauty in its mother’s eyes.
Maybe if we love them, they will not have the need to be aggressive.
Cantharis vesicatoria. Lytta vesicatoria. Spanish Fly.
CLASSIFICATION Cantharis is an emerald green blister beetle, which is found in Southern and Central Europe. Here they are normally found clustered on members of the Olive family – e.g. olive, ash, jasmine, lilac, privet – and the Honeysuckle family – e.g. elder, honeysuckle. The body is usually 15-22 mm long and the beetle has a strong smell. It belongs to the order Coleoptera, suborder Polyphaga, family Meloidea. Polyphaga is the largest suborder, containing 85% of the known beetle species. Beetles, the insects in the order Coleoptera, are the dominant form of life on earth – one out of every five living beings is a beetle. That God must have “an inordinate fondness for beetles” is what biologist J.B. S. Haldane allegedly told a group of English theologians who asked him what one could infer about the Creator by a study of creation. Worldwide there are 166 suborders, comprising some 300,000 species, sorting under the order Coleoptera. Beetles range in size from the order’s smallest member, the featherwing beetle [Ptiliidae], of 0,3 mm long, to the family’s largest member, the giant Goliath or the Hercules beetle [Scarabaeidae], which can be well over 15 cm. Beetles live in every possible habitat, excepting the open sea, and feed on every possible sort of food. Beetles appeared before the dinosaurs and now greatly outnumber the dinosaurs’ descendants, the birds. The oldest beetle fossils are from the Lower Permian, about 265 million years old.
NAME The name Coleoptera derives from the Greek words koleos, sheath, and ptera, wings. This refers to the modified front wings, which serve as protective covers for the membranous hind wings. Polyphaga, literally ‘eating much’, alludes to the habit of polyphagous insects to eat many different kinds of food. The specific name comes from the Greek word Lytta, rage or madness, and the Latin word vesica, blister. This points to the main effects of cantharidin, the chief constituent of the beetle: mental illness, and blisters. Lytta is the Attic form of lyssa; both refer to the madness of rabies. In Greek mythology Lyssa is the offspring of Uranus and Nyx. As ‘Raging Madness’ she drove Heracles out of his mind.
DISTRIBUTION Coleopterans live throughout the world [except Antarctica], but are most frequently found in the tropics. In the USA, blister beetles are the equivalent of the European Lytta vesicatoria. Lytta vesicatoria is native to Southern and Central Europe. Due to the cantharidin in its forewings, it is included in the family Meloidea, along with its American counterparts. In Colorado blister beetles go under the name “old-fashion potato bugs” because they were a common pest on potatoes before the Colorado potato beetle became prominent.
More then 310 species of blister beetles can be found in all parts of the USA and Canada.
The larvae of blister beetles are the ‘good guys’ since they hatch from eggs laid in the soil and then feed on grasshopper eggs. Since this is their main food source, blister beetles have become an important biological control of the amount of grasshoppers. The adults are however not considered to be quite as nice; they feed on the foliage and flowers of the plants attacked. The adult beetles do not occur until after midsummer but frequently populations emerge at the same time and can do considerable damage before they are even noticed.
HABITAT Beetles feed on a variety of diets, inhabit all terrestrial and freshwater environments and show a substantial amount of different lifestyles. Many are herbivores, adapted to feed on the roots, stems, leaves, or the reproductive structures of their host plants. Some species lives on fungi; others excavate tunnels in wood or under bark. The Scavengers are primarily feeding on carrion, faecal material, decaying wood and other dead organic materials. There are over 1000 species of beetles that are know to be parasitic; some invade nests of ants and termites, gaining entrance to the nest by mimicking the smell and behaviour of the ants. Others are internal parasites of other insects and some are even external parasites of mammals. Gathering in-groups, extremely large numbers can occur in clusters on fields. Blister beetles are mid to late summer insects, active from mid-July and early August. Examples of food sources for blister beetles are: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, onions, spinach, beets, carrots, peppers, cabbage, corn, oat, barley, clematis, aster, zinnia, and several other crops and weeds.
FEATURES As adults most beetles have a hard exoskeleton that protects most of their body surface. Front wings are known as elytra; they are as hard as the rest of the exoskeleton. The wings fold down over the abdomen and serve as protective covers for the large, membranous hind wings, as well as the dorsal surface of the abdomen. This might be the key factor allowing them to exploit narrow passageways, for instance under bark. Both elytra meet along the middle of the back, forming a straight line that is one of the most distinctive characteristics of the order. During flight, the elytra are held out to the side of the body where they provide a certain amount of aerodynamic stability. Another characteristic of the beetles are two hind thoracic segments [mesothorax + metathorax = pterothorax] broadly connected with the abdomen, so that the primary functional units of the body are head-prothorax-pterothorax, rather than the more typical head-thorax-abdomen of many other insects. The head is wider than the pronotum [back of prothorax], with a well-developed neck. Usually they are elongate in general body form. The adult beetle also has the genitalia retracted into the abdomen. The antennae consist of eleven small segments, which make the antennae exceptionally movable. Both larvae and adults have strong mandibulate mouthparts.
HYPERMETAMORPHOSIS Blister beetles have an unusual life cycle. Their metamorphosis includes more stages than that of other insects. During the summer, blister beetles congregate and feed voraciously on foliage and flowers. Two to three weeks after mating, the female beetle lays up to six clusters of eggs in the soil. These masses may each contain 50-300 eggs. The small active larvae hatch 12-21 days later and then develop into what might be called ‘walking eggs’. They crawl over the soil surface, entering cracks in search for grasshopper egg pods or pollen provision from ground nesting bees which are deposited in the soil. These tiny larvae are peculiar compared to many other insects for they have long running-legs to aid them in their search for eggs. After finding the eggmass or the beehive, the larvae moult, become fairly immobile and spend the rest of their development time as grubs. Their legs diminish as they go through the seven larval stages, called instars. The grubs continue to feed on the eggs or pollen and moult until they are fat, almost legless when they reach their fifth stage. In the fifth stage the larvae create oval hibernating chambers in the soil, moult into sixth instars, and overwinter, normally on a depth of 2-4 cm into the soil. In spring, resting larvae moult into active non-feeding larvae, which soon pupate. Development usually continues the following spring but the larvae might stay inactive for as long as two years. Sometimes fifth instars moult directly into the pupal stage, by-passing the last two larval instars. As a general rule, however, blister beetles complete one generation each year.
ROLE Many beetles are regarded as pests of agriculture plants and stored products. They attack all parts of the living plants as well as processed fibres, grains and wood products. Scavengers are however, together with other wood boring beetles, useful as decomposers and recyclers of organic nutrients. Predatory species, such as lady beetles, are important biological control agents of aphids and scale insects. Pioneering a new vision of Man and Nature in co-operation, Findhorn garden states: “Insects should be approached with an attitude of love to reach for a solution that is for the highest good of all concerned. It is normal for plants to live with a balanced population of insects around them. We have observed that healthy plants are not harmed by the insects that they attract, just as healthy bodies are not infected by the germs they come in contact with.”
POLLINATION Beetles were probably the earliest pollinators, playing an important role in the evolution of angiosperms; yet they are relatively overlooked as pollinators because their size and awkwardness generally make them poorly adapted to flower pollination. Their mouthparts being adapted for chewing, they feed on edible tissues and pollen, but seldom on nectar. Their flower visits are largely accidental and as pollinators they are undependable. There are, however, many examples of regular, predictable, and even highly specific visitations. In general, beetles visit flowers that are little specialized. Usually large and solitary or small and grouped into a large inflorescence, these flowers are often dull white to greenish with strong fruity or decaying proteinlike odours. The sense of smell of beetles is much more acute than their vision, hence they are attracted by odours that simulate their common food sources – fruit, carrion, and dung. The flowers are usually open, flat or bowl shaped, and shallow, with plentiful pollen and accessible sexual organs. The ovary is normally well protected against the indiscriminate feeding habits of the beetles. 2
COMMUNICATION When disturbed, blister beetles play ‘dead’ and fall to the ground. American entomologists have been able to demonstrate that beetles and other insects communicate with each other and with plants, using a variety of antennae tuned to the infrared band of the electromagnetic spectrum. “Insects ‘smell’ odours electronically by tuning into the narrow-band infrared radiation emitted both by the sex scents and by the plants they desire as food. … Sickening plants signal the news of their impending death to waiting bugs by means of the same infrared radiation.”1 The studies also showed that the sicker the plant, the more powerful the scents that it emits and the easier the beetle can pick up the signal. When large numbers of insects attack crop plants – often modern hybrids that need excessive fertilisation and irrigation to grow – they may have invited the insects to do so. Ignoring this kind of messages, farmers have traditionally tried to fix the imbalance by killing the messenger, the beetle.
CONSTITUENTS Cantharidin is the main, though perhaps not the only active principle of cantharis. When the drug was made by using dried beetles the percentage of cantharidin did not come up to more then 0,6. The concentration of cantharidin varies with the species as well as the sex. The chemical is produced by the male; the male has the highest content, but will pass some on to the female during mating. “The chemical constitution of cantharidin points strongly to its origin from terpenes; it is an anhydride of dicarbonic acid of a monoterpene. This peculiar and very active compound occurs in varying amounts also in other beetles, Meloe and Mylabris species, mainly in the blood but also in the accessory glands of the genital tract. … The constitution of cantharidin suggests a comparison with protoanemonine, the vesicant principles of several Ranunculaceae species [Ranunculus, Clematis, Pulsatilla, etc].”3 Cantharidin is comparable to cyanide and strychnine in its toxicity. The substance is very stable and remains toxic even in the dead beetle.
USES Cantharis has been used since the days of Hippocrates – externally as a vesicant with the intention of counter-irritation, but also internally as a diuretic in hydrophic conditions. Pliny says that the poisonous Spanish fly is ‘bread from a grub found in the sponge-like substance on the stalk of the wild rose especially, but also very plentifully on the manna-ash’, adding that in Cappadocia menstruating women ‘walked around in cornfields naked’, and this was caused by ‘a plague there of Spanish fly, so that women … walked through the middle of the fields with their clothes pulled above their buttocks.”4
MORE BEETLES There are about one thousand beetles known to contain cantharidin. A well-known species in northern countries is the May bug or Cockchafer – Melolontha melolontha, formerly called Meloe majalis] -, a large flying beetle with reddish-brown wingcases and fan-like antennae. This beetle is said to have virtually the same effects as Cantharis. “It is interesting to learn from old non-homoeopathic textbooks that Meloe majalis was an ingredient of the nostrums for preventing and even curing rabies [hydrophobia]. The reputation of an electuary, circumstantially prepared of Meloes, must have been considerable in the 18th century; for Frederic the Second, King of Prussia, bought the arcanum from a Silesian peasant and ordered the use of this ‘Prussian specific against the bite of rabid dogs’ by the doctors of the realm. The only other beetle containing cantharidin or a similar product which has got a very minor place in materia medica is the Ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata. At the beginning of the 19th century, mainly the local application of the crushed animal on the gingiva over aching teeth seems to have been common, apparently as a ‘counter-irritant’, as it produced a slight gingivitis and salivation; but the tincture was also used internally for neuralgias, especially of the face. In view of this usage, Franz made a short proving of Coccinella. Symptoms were indeed obtained chiefly from the teeth, such as sensation of coldness, and drawing and tearing pains, as if a tooth would be torn out; or in the back teeth, as if they were hollow; the gum was swollen; a rush of blood to the face, like flushes of heat; one-sided headache. A certain resemblance with Cantharis is apparent, but these fragmentary provings reveal nothing of the main sphere of action of cantharidin on the urinary passages.”5
EFFECTS The peculiar metabolic product of Lytta vesicatoria, cantharidin, must be assumed to derive from the foliage of the Oleaceae and Caprifoliaceae on and from which the beetle lives. Hahnemann describes the odour from the tincture as sweetish-disgusting and narcotic, he also adds that the taste of the beetle is indifferent at first, then corroding. “The misuse of Cantharis as an abortivum and as an aphrodisiac has contributed to a great number of poisonings on record, so that the toxicology of the drug is well known. Even external applications may have severe consequences, from extensive blistering to even gangrenous ulcers and glomerulonenephritis.”6 Cantharidin is a powerful irritant and highly toxic by ingestion or absorption from skin and mucous membranes. First it gives a burning sensation to the throat, stomach, difficulty in swallowing, followed by nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting of blood-stained material, intense thirst and diarrhoea with blood and mucus. As time passes the kidneys get damaged and there is a dull, heavy pain in the joint. Feeling of wanting to urinate is constantly present but when trying to relief the pressure there is only a small amount of urine coming. Sometimes convulsions occur and also blisters in mouth and other parts which have been in contact with the substance. It can cause severe gastroenteritis, nephritis, collapse and even death may occur. There have been cases reported where an ingestion of as little as 1.6 grams of pulverised beetle led to death within 26 hours. Animals might be poisoned by ingesting beetles in cured hay and there are no known methods to detect toxic levels of cantharidin. When it is absorbed through the intestine it can cause symptoms like colic, straining, elevated temperature, depression, increased heart rate and respiration, dehydration, sweating and diarrhoea. Frequent urination occurs the first 24 hours accompanied by inflammation of the urinary tract, secondary there might be an infection and extensive bleeding. Horses seem to be most susceptible to cantharidin; even very small amounts can cause colic. In addition to the poisoning symptoms, the calcium level in the horse might be drastically lowered and heart muscle tissue destroyed. Death might occur within 72 hours. The amount of cantharidin necessary to kill a horse is estimated at 1 milligram per kilogram of horse. Cantharadin is nowadays used as a urogenital stimulant when breeding cattle.
APHRODISIACS The Roman empress Livia [58 BC – 29 AD] is said to have slipped powdered Cantharis beetles into the food of the members of the imperial family to stimulate them into committing sexual indiscretions that would later be used against them. In the 16th and 17Th centuries cantharides were the main ingredient of ‘love potions’ that went under different names in different countries. In England, it was named ‘love powder’, in Italy ‘Diabolini di Napoli’ and in France ‘pastilles galantes’. The ‘pastilles galantes’ were also called ‘pastilles de Richelieu’ because Duc de Richelieu [1585-1642] allegedly administered them to his mistresses. Richelieu was chief minister to the French king Louis XIII. In 1772 the Marquis de Sade made some prostitutes drink the cantharis poison and they became very ill. The Marquis was arrested and put on trial. The disastrous result should have finished off the belief that cantharides are aphrodisiacs, but it didn’t, so that the belief still lives on until our days. The idea of cantharis being an aphrodisiac might come from the reactions it gives in the genito-urinary ducts, such as hyperaemia and inflammations with painful erections. Such erections are known as priapism, meaning a persistent, abnormal, very painful erection, not associated with any sexual desire. In Zimbabwe, healers sell ‘vuka-vuka’ [vuka means wake up] which consists of dried beetles from the family Myalabris. Also here is the active principle cantharidin and the strongest variety sold on the markets is called ‘Squirrel Jump’, possibly because squirrels are considered to be very romantic animals in this part of the world.
FOLKLORE The Scots say that if a beetle enters a room while the family is seated, it means bad luck; however, you get even worse luck if you kill him. A beetle walking on one’s shoe is a death omen. In many parts of Europe it is believed that a beetle can bring on a terrible storm. There are also those who think beetles are the devil. In Ireland some say that Satan takes the form of a Devil’s Coach-horse [Hercules beetle] to eat the bodies of the sinners, and that if this beetle raises its tail it is putting a curse on you. 7 In certain parts of Arabia beetles were used to bring back runaway slaves. A magic circle was traced on the ground, a nail stuck in the middle of it, and a beetle was attached by a thread to the nail. The sex of the beetle had to be identical to that of the fugitive. As the beetle crawled round and round, it would coil the thread about the nail, thus shortening its tether and drawing nearer to the centre at every circuit. By virtue of magic similarity the runaway slave would then be drawn back to his master. “In a Magyar folktale, an old witch detains a young prince called Ambrose in the bowels of the earth. At last she confided to him that she kept a wild boar in a silken meadow, and if it were killed, they would find a hare inside, and inside the hare a pigeon, and inside the pigeon a small box, and inside the box one black and one shining beetle; the shining beetle held her life, and the black one held her power; if these two beetles died, then her life would come to an end also. When the old hag went out, Ambrose killed the wild boar, and took out the hare; from the hare he took the pigeon, from the pigeon the box, and from the box the two beetles; he killed the black beetle, but kept the shining one alive. So the witch’s power left her immediately, and when she came home, she had to take to her bed. Having learned from her how to escape from his prison to the upper air, Ambrose killed the shining beetle, and the old hag’s spirit left her at once.”8
PROVINGS Assisted by seven of his students, Hahnemann conducted a proving of Cantharis, but he didn’t incorporate it in his Materia Medica. Hahnemann did not mention the potencies used. Baehr – source 106-109 in Allen’s Encyclopedia – observed on himself the effects of repeated doses of various low potencies and of powdered Cantharis rubbed up with milk sugar. “From the latter dose the well known cystitis symptoms were very marked; it is noteworthy that the pains were much relieved by rapidly drinking 3 glasses of cold water; thus the often emphasized aggravation from drinking water, and the aversion to it, cannot be upheld for the main syndrome of Cantharis.”9 The additional 90 sources that Allen includes are a mixture of clinical experiments, intoxications and the employment of Spanish flies in the form of powder or ointment.
 Lauck, The Voice of the Infinite in the Small.  Northington and Schneider, The Botanical World.  Leeser, Actions and Medicinal Uses of Insects; BHJ, April 1959.  Pliny, cited in Shelley, The Elixir. [5-6] Leeser, ibid.  Dale-Green, Beetles; BHJ, October 1964.  Frazer, The Golden Bough.  Leeser, ibid.
Mucous and serous MEMBRANES [URINARY ORGANS; bladder; pharynx; brain; pleura; lower bowel]. Adam’s apple. Skin. * RIGHT SIDE.
Worse: URINATING; before, during and after. Drinking; cold. Bright objects. Sound of water. Larynx. Coffee. Seeing running water. Approach. Heat. Night.
Better: Warmth. Rest. RUBBING. Cold or cold applications. Lying quietly on back.
M Restless and/or confused.
• “Has no rest, always seeks another place, at same time internal heat of head.”
• “When lying, sitting, and walking he chattered much unconnected stuff about his business and about people long dead.” [Hahnemann]
• “Everything affects him more deeply than usual, so that he is unable to resist much whining; when wishing to reflect on anything his thoughts at once leave him; he gazes fixedly and in silence at some object [which, however, he scarcely notices] and has trouble in bringing himself to utter a few coherent words [2nd day].” [Allen]
• “Says he is all the time uneasy; must be doing something or other, snaps his fingers or picks them; limbs move about in spite of him.” [Hughes]
• “Extreme restlessness while sitting or lying; she must constantly move up and down, here and there; day and night [for eight days].” [Allen]
M The slightest touch or approach < mental symptoms. [frenzy, uneasiness, restlessness, distress, dissatisfaction, abusive, desire to bite, cursing] M Quarrels and fights. • “Rest broken; is constantly dreaming of quarrels and fight with boys, in which he beats in their heads with his fist, and is covered with blood; talks loudly in sleep.” [Hughes] [Observed in a 12-year old boy who had been poisoned by his schoolmates with an apple ‘in which they had inserted a quantity of cantharis.’] RAGE, with a WHITE FACE. • “Cantharis is more wild than the devil’s own remedy, than Stramonium. Here you have the great outburst of rage and anger. Wants to bite, scratch, anything that comes close to it. It will bite the clothes, the sheet, the mattress, the pillow, the spoon, anything that is presented to the Cantharis they will want to bite and tear apart, like an animal. They will growl and they will menace.” [Saine] G Great weakness. • “Such lassitude that she could hold nothing in her hands.” • “Continually tired, more esp. on right side of body.” • “Considerable prostration of strength, a sort of progressive languor; relieved by drinking freely of alcoholic liquors, which produced no symptoms of intoxication.” • “The whole body feels crushed to pieces; every part is sensitive, internally and externally, with such weakness that she can scarcely rise from bed.” [Allen] G Burning thirst. G Excessive SEXUAL DESIRE. Increased sexual desire [nymphomania or troublesome erections] DURING CYSTITIS. • “The mind often runs towards subjects that the inflamed parts would suggest. The bladder and genitals are inflamed and the excitement and congestion of the parts often arouse the sexual instinct, so that there are sexual thoughts and sexual frenzy.” [Kent] Satyriasis, desire disturbs sleep. • “The male child frequently pulls at the genital organs.” [Farrington] G > RUBBING.
G < During coition. G < COFFEE. [gastric, hepatic, abdominal and bladder complaints] G BURNING. [mouth, throat, stomach, larynx, chest, abdomen, ovaries] G General hyperaesthesia [i.e. burning of skin on touch]. G Burns and scalds with violent burning and rapid vesication. G Rapid and DESTRUCTIVE inflammations. • “It brings on a state of pain and excitement found in no other remedy.” [Kent] Gangrenous inflammations. G Watery discharges excoriating and corroding to such a degree that the skin scalds. P Uterus. • “Promotes fecundity and expulsion of moles, placenta, dead foetus and foreign bodies from uterus.” [Mathur] P VIOLENT BURNING PAIN in bladder, neck of bladder and urethra. And Constant, intolerable URGING; before, during and after micturition. Pain in bladder < drinking even small quantity of water, or from drinking coffee. Or: pain in bladder > rapidly drinking a few glasses of cold water. [Leeser]
• “The burning pain and intolerable urging to urinate are the red strands of Canth. in all inflammatory affections.” [Allen]
P Micturition in DROPS [strangury, urine squeezed out drop by drop].
And Violent BURNING and CUTTING pains.
• “Tensive feeling along urethra, as if urine were checked in its course.” [Allen]
P Urging to urinate much worse when standing, and esp. when walking, than when sitting.
P Paralysis of lower limbs – paralytic feeling, or feeling as if filled with lead.
Inability to pass urine.
P Erythema from exposure to sun [burning pain and before blisters form].
Adulterous . Anger about pains [1; Cham.; Coloc.]. Aversion to everything . Blasphemy and cursing . Cruelty . Delusions, midnight vision of something taking her hand [1/1], hears things that are moving high up near him out of sight , of being possessed , someone with ice cold hands took her by the throat [1/1]. Fear arising from stomach . Hurry while walking . Nymphomania after suppressed menses . Restlessness, during headache , must move constantly , ending in a rage [1/1]. Speech incoherent [1*]. Talking of business , about dead people [1•]. Vanishing of thought from mental exertion .
With vomiting .
Sensation as of boiling water in head . Pain, burning, as if brain were on fire , > lying on back [1/1]. Sensation as if head were pushed forward .
Colours, letters appear green  or yellow .
Sensation of heat escaping from ears , alternating sides [1/1*].
Odour before nose, offensive [1*]. Smell, acute, strong odours .
Discolouration, red, on stooping ; yellow, during rage .
Salivation during rage .
Pain, > lying , before menses ; burning, after cold drinks .
Sensation of fulness after coffee [1/1].
Sensation of fulness after coffee [1/1].
Diarrhoea, after coffee , < urinating . Urging, during urination , > after urination [1/1*].
Paralysis, forcible retention seems to paralyze the bladder . Urging, painful, with urging to stool ; > sitting .
Pain, burning, during coition , after coition , during ejaculation , during erections .
Copious, during headache , during menses .
Sexual desire increased, disturbing sleep .
Sexual desire increased during drunkenness , with itching .
Sensation of fulness after coffee [2/1].
Being busy . Crowds . Walking in woods [1/1].
Odour, of urine . Symptoms > during perspiration .
Dry sensation in joints . Pains appear suddenly and disappear suddenly .
* Repertory additions [Allen].
• In the repertory Cantharis is erroneously included in the rubric Talking with dead people. The proving symptom refers to talking incoherently about dead people [and business].
Aversion: : Drinks; food; tobacco; water. : Cold water.
Desire: : Wine. : Meat.
Worse: : Coffee; cold drinks. : Cold food; warm food; water.
Better: : Wine. : Alcohol; coffee.