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Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon

Articles: Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon

"A beetle of some sort," said my husband, casually waving his hand to the side of the trail as he walked by. I stopped and was thrilled to see an iron cross blister beetle (Tegrodera aloga). Back in our Owens Valley motel room, I read about blister beetles (family Meloidae) in Amy Stewart's delightful entomological romp, Wicked Bugs. I was surprised to learn that the species of blister beetle known for producing Spanish fly (Lytta vesicatoria), a purported aphrodisiac, led to the imprisonment of the infamous Marquis de Sade, and that a related beetle found in alfalfa fields can, if not removed from livestock feed, be responsible for the death of even large animals: a mere one hundred beetles can kill a twelve-hundred-pound horse. Cantharidin, the defensive chemical produced by blister beetles, is a deterrent to predators, but it can also act as an attractant. For instance, Stewart informs us, male fire-colored beetles (Neopyrochroa flabellata) use cantharidin taken from blister beetles to attract mates. Although cantharidin appears to act as an aphrodisiac for female fire-colored beetles, Stewart describes in detail the quite different—and unpleasant—effect it has on humans of eith...

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Articles: Calochortophilia: A Californian’s Love Affair with a Genus by Katherine Renz

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