Spanish Fly

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Commonly found throughout southern Europe, parts of Central Asia and Siberia, the Spanish Fly (Lytta vesicatoria) is actually a beetle. They are signified by the secretion of Cantharidin, which is common among almost all male species of the blister beetle family (Meloidae).

The Spanish Fly, and some of its related species, were earlier used for the preparation of medicines by conventional apothecaries. Cantharidin, a toxic, defensive chemical found in the blister beetle, had been used for over a thousand years as a sexual stimulant. In concentrated amounts, the chemical causes severe blistering. It is potent enough to cause serious complications and is fatal above a certain dosage.

Description/Etymology

The Spanish Fly has a bright metallic, emerald-green body, which often appears as golden-green due to the phenomenon known as iridescence. In simple terms, iridescence is the property due to which the color of some surfaces appear to change gradually and is often found to naturally occur. Examples include butterfly wings and feathers of certain birds.

It has a soft body and usually grows up to 20 mm (0.79 inches) in length and 5 mm (0.20 inches) in width. Its scientific name is derived from Greek, with lytta meaning marital rage, insanity, Bacchic frenzy (refer to the Maenads - the mad, female followers of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility. Dionysus was known as Bacchus in Roman mythology) or rabies. The vesica is Latin for blisters.

Scientific Classification of the Spanish Fly

The Spanish Fly (lytta vesicatoria) belongs to the order Coleoptera (beetle) and the Meloidae (blister beetle) family. Coleoptera, or the order of the beetles, is the largest of all the orders, with over 400,000 species. They are found throughout the globe, except for the polar regions and the sea. They are an integral part of the ecosystem, responsible for breaking down animal and plant debris, feeding on plants, fungi and, at times, smaller invertebrates.

There are about 7,500 known species of blister beetles known globally. It is also one of among at least 330 species that have been described in the Meloinae sub-family. The tribe is known as Lyttini. The Spanish Fly is associated with the genus Lytta, available worldwide but majorly concentrated in North America. On a worldwide scale, there are over 100 species belonging to the genus Lytta, of which 70 are common in the northern part of America.