A plague of rove beetles – nasty enough to be historically linked to ancient plagues of Biblical proportions – is sweeping slowly across Indonesia with a limited number of infestations now reported in Bali and Lombok.
The rove beetle - Paederus littoralis - carry a potent toxin containing pederin – an irritant said to be more potent than cobra venom. Discharged by the beetles automatically when they come in contact with human skin, victims develop painful itching and puss-filled wounds that are sometime misdiagnosed as herpes.
The beetles, known locally as “tomcats,” have a positive role to play devouring insects harmful to farm crops. While they do not prey on humans, their toxic blood makes contact with human skin extremely painful. The threat to humans is made even more insidious when people make the common mistake of crushing the beetles, resulting in the spread of toxins via the insects’ blood.
The rove beetles can be mistaken for an ant, measuring less than 1 centimeter in length with a black body and red or orange thorax. During nighttime hours the beetles are attracted to light.
Those unfortunate enough to be afflicted from contact with the rove beetle should seek medical attention, making caregivers aware of past contact with the insect. Normal remedies of powder, oils, salve and lotions are less-than-effective. Treatments using hydrocortisone (1%), betamethasone and neomycin sulfate antibiotic, or acyclovir 5% have proven efficacy in treating irritations caused by the rove beetle.
Common offf-the-shelf insecticides are efective in eliminating swarms of rove bettles found in residential areas.
The rise in the rove beetle population is tied to climate change, the shrinking amount of agricultural land and raised levels of humidity. The coming dry season is expected to bring an end to the current surge in tomcat infestations that are seeping across Java, with isolated encounters now reported in some areas of Bali and Lombok.
In the mantime, keep an eye out for these bugs and keep a distance.
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