Originating in East Timor, the Spanish Fly is a beautiful emerald-green beetle that can be found throughout Asia and southern Europe. A blister beetle that measures only around 20mm long, this beetle is a beautiful creature that is stunning to look at. With a soft body and a harder outer shell, the Spanish Fly is easily identifiable by it’s emerald-green, iridescent shell that covers its lower body.
Adult forms of the Spanish fly beetle are most commonly found on ash, amur privet, honey suckle and white willow trees although they can sometimes be found on other trees, namely rose, plum and elm. Due to their diverse habitat and the fact that they easily adapt to changes by moving to different trees, they have been extremely successful at colonizing a large portion of the planet.
The life-cycle of the Spanish Fly is a fascinating one because the parents do not bring up the young. Once the male has fertilized to female’s eggs she will lay them on the ground near a nest of a ground-nesting solitary bee. The larvae that hatch are very active almost instantly and as soon as they are born make their way to the top of a flowering plant, in wait of the bee. When the bee visits the flower they take their chance to latch onto the bee’s back using three claws that are found on their legs. The bee then transports them back to the hive and the Spanish Fly larvae will feed on the bee larvae and food supplies until they are fully grown. Once they have finished their metamorphosis they will emerge from the bee’s nest and fly away, landing on the woody plants that they live on and feed off for the remainder of their lives.
The Spanish Fly is very well known due to it’s use in medicines and as an aphrodisiac throughout many parts of the world. Though, historically it’s use has been widespread and common the present day situation is very different as the active component cantharidin has been shown to cause severe blistering and in the worst cases, even death. Though it was once sold as part of a spice blend in Morocco and a jam in North Africa, this usage has been banned on a massive scale due to negative effects it has on humans.
The cantharidin component that is found in these beetles is a strong defence mechanism that is why the Spanish Fly comes under the umbrella of blistering beetles. The males produce a significant amount more than the females of the species and is used to coat the eggs of the larvae before they hatch. The effects of this active component is so strong that simply touching it is highly corrosive to the skin and can have very harmful effects on the body.
Despite the horrendous effects this active component has had on the human form since it was first discovered, it hasn’t stopped people from using it as an aphrodisiac throughout history. Indeed, there are known cases of men lacing women’s drinks with it, however the desired effects are far from the ones that happen. Being as strong as cyanide and with no known antidote, it’s better to admire the beauty of these beetle from afar.
A gorgeous creature that isn’t done justice in the history books, East Timor is proud of the heritage of the Spanish Fly and the fact that they have been able to offer the world such a stunning beetle, even if it is highly deadly.