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Concept: Blister beetle


Some flying beetles have peculiar functional properties of their elytra, if compared with the vast majority of beetles. A “typical” beetle covers its pterothorax and the abdomen from above with closed elytra and links closed elytra together along the sutural edges. In the open state during flight, the sutural edges diverge much more than by 90°. Several beetles of unrelated taxa spread wings through lateral incisions on the elytra and turn the elytron during opening about 10-12° (Cetoniini, Scarabaeus, Gymnopleurus) or elevate their elytra without partition (Sisyphus, Tragocerus). The number of campaniform sensilla in their elytral sensory field is diminished in comparison with beetles of closely related taxa lacking that incision. Elytra are very short in rove beetles and in long-horn beetles Necydalini. The abundance of sensilla in brachyelytrous long-horn beetles Necydalini does not decrease in comparison with macroelytrous Cerambycinae. The strong reduction of the sensory field was found in brachyelytrous Staphylinidae. Lastly, there are beetles lacking the linkage of the elytra down the sutural edge (stenoelytry). Effects of stenoelytry were also not uniform: Oedemera and flying Meloidae have the normal amount of sensilla with respect to their body size, whereas the sensory field in the stenoelytrous Eulosia bombyliformis is 5-6 times less than in chafers of the same size but with normally linking broad elytra.

Concepts: Staphylinidae, Blister beetle, Normal distribution, Elytron, Polyphaga, Aleochara, Rove beetle, Beetle


We present evidence of a possible case of self-medication in a lekking bird, the great bustard Otis tarda. Great bustards consumed blister beetles (Meloidae), in spite of the fact that they contain cantharidin, a highly toxic compound that is lethal in moderate doses. In addition to anthelminthic properties, cantharidin was effective against gastrointestinal bacteria that cause sexually-transmitted diseases. Although both sexes consumed blister beetles during the mating season, only males selected them among all available insects, and ingested more and larger beetles than females. The male-biased consumption suggests that males could use cantharidin to reduce their parasite load and increase their sexual attractiveness. This plausibly explains the intense cloaca display males perform to approaching females, and the meticulous inspection females conduct of the male’s cloaca, a behaviour only observed in this and another similar species of the bustard family. A white, clean cloaca with no infection symptoms (e.g., diarrhoea) is an honest signal of both, resistance to cantharidin and absence of parasites, and represents a reliable indicator of the male quality to the extremely choosy females. Our results do not definitely prove, but certainly strongly suggest that cantharidin, obtained by consumption of blister beetles, acts in great bustards as an oral anti-microbial and pathogen-limiting compound, and that males ingest these poisonous insects to increase their mating success, pointing out that self-medication might have been overlooked as a sexually-selected mechanism enhancing male fitness.

Concepts: Kori Bustard, Blister beetle, Female, Reproduction, Bustard, Great Bustard, Male, Sex


Commonly known as blister beetles or Spanish fly, there are more than 1,500 species in the Meloidae family (Hexapoda: Coleoptera: Tenebrionoidea) that produce the potent defensive blistering agent cantharidin. Cantharidin and its derivatives have been used to treat cancers, such as liver, stomach, lung and esophageal cancers. Hycleus cichorii and Hycleus phaleratus are the most commercially important blister beetles in China due to their ability to biosynthesize this potent vesicant. However, there is a lack of genome reference, which has hindered development of studies on the biosynthesis of cantharidin and a better understanding of its biology and pharmacology.

Concepts: Species, Cantharidin, Gene, Beetle, Beetles, Organism, Insect, Blister beetle


Insect mitochondrial genomes (mitogenomes) exhibit high diversity in some lineages. The gene rearrangement and large intergenic spacer (IGS) have been reported in several Coleopteran species, although very little is known about mitogenomes of Meloidae.

Concepts: Evolution, Beetles, Species, Organism, Insect, Blister beetle, Beetle, DNA


Larvae of the bean blister beetle, Epicauta gorhami Marseul (Coleoptera: Meloidae), feed on grasshopper eggs in soil and undergo hypermetamorphosis. They normally enter diapause as a pseudopupa at the fifth instar, a form characteristic of hypermetamorphosis for meloid beetles. However, fourth-instar larvae exposed to long days and high temperature avoid pseudopupal diapause and pupate directly from the fourth instar. Fourth-instar larvae also tend to pupate precociously with a smaller body size if they are deprived of food. In these larvae, the critical day-length controlling induction of pseudopupal diapause becomes shorter than that for fully-fed larvae. In this study, we examined how the reaction norm of food-deprived E. gorhami larvae functions in nature by rearing insects from the egg stage outdoors in different seasons with manipulation of the food supply. The results indicated that most fully-fed larvae entered pseudopupal diapause, whereas food-deprived larvae tended to pupate precociously without entering diapause, especially early in the season. The resulting smaller adults reproduced early in the autumn and their progeny attained the pseudopupal stage before winter, indicating that the reaction norm may have an adaptive role in controlling seasonal development in the face of food shortages, producing a bivoltine life cycle.

Concepts: Season, Beetles, Pupa, Hypermetamorphosis, Blister beetle, Developmental biology, Beetle, Insect


A checklist of Oedemeridae species recorded from Iran is given. A total of 48 species and subspecies are reported, of which two, Nacerdochroa caspia (Faldermann, 1836) and Oedemera (Oedemera) virescens virescens (Linnaeus, 1767), are recorded here for the first time from Iran. A total of 18 species (37,5%) are Iranian endemics. The most common chorotypes are Turanian (16 species; 33%), Turano-European (8 species; 17%), SW-Asiatic chorotype (7 species; 15%), Sindian (6 species; 13%) and Arabo-sindian (4 species, 8%).

Concepts: Beetle, Central Asia, Iran, Binomial nomenclature, Tenebrionoidea, Blister beetle, Blister beetle dermatitis, Oedemeridae


Cantharidin is a defence chemical synthesised in only two beetle families Meloidae and Oedemeridae. In Meloidae, cantharidin is used as a defence chemical in eggs. However, in Oedemeridae the function of cantharidin remains unclear. Based on morphological comparison of female internal reproductive organs in 39 species of Oedemeridae, we found that some species have sclerotised spines in the bursa copulatrix (bursal spines), while others have no such spines. Molecular phylogenetic trees inferred from mitochondrial 16S and nuclear 28S rRNA gene sequences suggested multiple evolutionary origins of bursal spines from an ancestor without spines. In the species which lacked spines, males transferred small amounts of ejaculates to females; however, in species with spines, males transferred large spermatophores. Deposited spermatophores gradually disappeared in the bursa, probably owing to absorption. To compare the amounts of cantharidin in eggs laid by species with and without bursal spines, we constructed a new bioassay system using the small beetle Mecynotarsus tenuipes from the family Anthicidae. M. tenuipes individuals were attracted to droplets of cantharidin/acetone solution, and the level of attraction increased with cantharidin concentration. This bioassay demonstrated that the eggs of Nacerdes caudata and N. katoi, both of which species have conspicuous bursal spines, contain more cantharidin than the eggs of N. waterhousei, which lacks spines. In the former species, males transfer large spermatophores to the female, and spermatophores are eventually broken down and digested within the female’s spiny bursa. Thus, females with bursal spines may be able to provide more cantharidin to their eggs.

Concepts: Sex, Human, Ribosomal RNA, Female, Blister beetle, Reproduction, Male, Beetle


Several families of beetles cause toxic reactions on exposed human skin. Cantharidin provokes nearly asymptomatic vesicles and blisters, while pederin leads to itching and burning erythema with vesicles and small pustules, later crusts. Paederi are attracted by fluorescent light especially after rain showers and cause outbreaks in regions with moderate climate. Clinical findings and patient history lead to the diagnosis: dermatitis linearis.

Concepts: Fluorescent lamp, Burn, Pemphigus, Blister beetle dermatitis, Beetles, Symptoms, Beetle, Blister beetle


The dried body of Mylabris cichorii is well-known Chinese traditional medicine. The sesquiterpenoid cantharidin, which is secreted mostly by adult male beetles, has recently been used as an anti-cancer drug. However, little is known about the mechanisms of cantharidin biosynthesis. Furthermore, there is currently no genomic or transcriptomic information for M. cichorii. In this study, we performed de novo assembly transcriptome of M. cichorii using the Illumina Hiseq2000. A single run produced 9.19 Gb of clean nucleotides comprising 29,247 sequences, including 23,739 annotated sequences (about 81%). We also constructed two expression profile libraries (20-25 day-old adult males and 20-25 day-old adult females) and discovered 2,465 significantly differentially-expressed genes. Putative genes and pathways involved in the biosynthesis of cantharidin were then characterized. We also found that cantharidin biosynthesis in M. cichorii might only occur via the mevalonate (MVA) pathway, not via the methylerythritol 4-phosphate/deoxyxylulose 5-phosphate (MEP/DOXP) pathway or a mixture of these. Besides, we considered that cantharidin biosynthesis might be related to the juvenile hormone (JH) biosynthesis or degradation. The results of transcriptome and expression profiling analysis provide a comprehensive sequence resource for M. cichorii that could facilitate the in-depth study of candidate genes and pathways involved in cantharidin biosynthesis, and may thus help to improve our understanding of the mechanisms of cantharidin biosynthesis in blister beetles.

Concepts: RNA, Gene, DNA microarray, Male, Gene expression, DNA, Beetle, Blister beetle


The blister beetle is an important resource insect due to its defensive substance cantharidin, which was widely used in pharmacology and plant protection. We determined the complete mitochondrial genome of Epicauta chinensis Laporte (Coleoptra: Tenebrionoidea: Meloidae). The circular genome is 15,717bp long, encoding 13 protein-coding genes (PCGs), two ribosomal RNAs and 22 tRNAs and containing a A+T-rich region with gene arrangement identical to other Coleopteran species. Twelve PCGs start with typical ATN codon, while ATP8 gene initiate with GTT for first report in Insecta. All PCGs terminate with conventional stop codon TAA or TAG. All tRNAs in E. chinensis are predicted to fold into typical cloverleaf secondary structure, except tRNA-Ser(AGN), in which the dihydrouracil arm (DHU arm) could not form stable stem-loop structure. The secondary structure of lrRNA and srRNA comprise 48 helices and 32 helices respectively. The 1101bp A+T-rich region contains a 15bp poly-T stretch and microsatellite-like repeats rather than large tandem repetitive sequences. Phylogenetic analysis, based on 13 PCGs of 45 Coleopteran species, show that E. chinensis grouped with tenebrionidae species. It also support the topology of (((Chrysomeloidea + Curculionoidea)+(Cucujoidea + Cleroidea))+Tenebrionoidea) within Cucujiformia.

Concepts: Organism, Blister beetle, Insect, Gene, Amino acid, Beetle, RNA, DNA