Category Archives: Insects of Spain

Repopulating Spain with Iberian Bees: The Smart Green Initiative

The Spanish bee, or Apis mellifera iberica, is a subspecies of western honey bee native to the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands. It is a dark-colored bee with low swarming tendency and high vigor, and it adapts well to the region’s climatic and floral conditions.

Despite its somewhat nervous and aggressive behavior, which allows it to defend itself better from predators and parasites, this subspecies is endangered due to several threats. These include the introduction of other foreign breeds, habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. The Spanish bee, though, still plays a crucial role as one of the most important pollinators in the region.

Continue reading Repopulating Spain with Iberian Bees: The Smart Green Initiative

Spanish fly beetle – Lytta vesicatoria – Cantárida medicinal

The Spanish fly beetle, also known as the blister beetle or Lytta vesicatoria, is a species of beetle that has gained notoriety due to its historical use as an aphrodisiac. However, it’s important to note that using Spanish fly as an aphrodisiac is dangerous and illegal in many countries. In Spanish it is called Cantárida medicinal

Here are some key points about the Spanish fly beetle:
  • Appearance: The Spanish fly beetle is a medium-sized beetle, typically measuring around 1 to 2 centimeters in length. It has a metallic green or blue color and a long, narrow body shape.
  • Habitat: These beetles are found in various regions of southern Europe, including Spain, France, Italy, and parts of northern Africa. They are most commonly found in warm and dry habitats such as meadows, fields, and gardens.
  • Chemical Defense: The Spanish fly beetle produces a defensive chemical called cantharidin. This substance is highly toxic and is used by the beetle to deter predators. Cantharidin is a blistering agent that can cause skin irritation, blisters, and in large doses, even internal damage if ingested.
  • Historical Use: Throughout history, people have believed that cantharidin, extracted from Spanish fly beetles, can increase sexual desire and performance. However, using Spanish fly or any product containing cantharidin is extremely dangerous. It can cause severe health issues such as kidney damage, gastrointestinal problems, and even death.
  • Medical Uses: Despite the dangers, cantharidin has been used in certain medical procedures. It has been employed as a topical treatment for wart removal and as a component of some traditional medicines in limited and controlled quantities.
Spanish fly beetle - Lytta vesicatoria - Cantárida medicinal
The Spanish fly beetle, also known as the blister beetle or Lytta vesicatoria, is a species of beetle that has gained notoriety due to its historical use as an aphrodisiac.
Spanish fly as a sexual enhancement substance

It is crucial to emphasize that using Spanish fly or any products containing cantharidin for sexual enhancement is illegal and highly risky. It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for safe and reliable methods to address sexual concerns or seek other legitimate solutions for improving intimacy and overall well-being.

The term “Spanish fly” typically refers to a purported aphrodisiac substance rather than the actual beetle. Historically, Spanish fly has been associated with a substance derived from the Spanish fly beetle (Lytta vesicatoria) and other related beetles in the Meloidae family. However, it’s important to note that using Spanish fly as an aphrodisiac is dangerous, illegal in many countries, and not supported by scientific evidence.

The substance traditionally associated with Spanish fly is cantharidin, which is a toxic compound produced by these beetles as a defense mechanism. Cantharidin is a blistering agent that causes skin irritation and blister formation. When ingested, it can cause severe damage to the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, and other organs. It is classified as a poison and can be life-threatening in high doses.

Despite its toxic nature, cantharidin has been falsely believed to have aphrodisiac properties. It is said to irritate the urogenital tract, potentially leading to increased blood flow and heightened sexual arousal. However, scientific research does not support these claims, and the risks associated with cantharidin outweigh any potential benefits.

Due to the health hazards and legal implications, the use of Spanish fly or any products containing cantharidin for sexual enhancement is strongly discouraged. It is important to prioritize safe and evidence-based approaches to sexual health and consult with healthcare professionals for guidance on addressing sexual concerns or seeking appropriate treatments.

Further reading

Wikipedia has quite an informative page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_fly
Also about Cantharidin here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantharidin


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Golden-ringed dragonfly – Cordulegaster boltonii – La libélula tigre

  • Family: Cordulegastridae
  • Scientific: Cordulegaster boltonii
  • English: Golden-ringed dragonfly
  • Spanish: La libélula tigre
Description

The golden-ringed dragonfly – Cordulegaster boltonii – La libélula tigre is a large and distinctive dragonfly that belongs to the Cordulegastridae family. They are easily recognized by their black and yellow stripes. Males have yellow parts on the face and jaw, green eyes, a black thorax with wide yellow stripes on the back and sides, a black abdomen with yellow markings, and distinctive features on its wings.

Females have similar patterns and colors as the male but is larger, has a thicker abdomen, and has a vulvar spine that looks like a long and striking thorn. (The vulvar spine is a long and striking thorn-like structure that protrudes from the female dragonfly’s genitalia. It is used to remove any sperm that may be present in the female’s reproductive tract before laying her eggs)

Often seen flying leisurely over mountain streams or rivers and occasionally showing up at a pond or flying over heath land. Their bright yellow and black stripes make them easy to identify, even from a fair distance away. They feed mainly on insects ranging from small prey such as midges to flies, butterflies, and even bumblebees. This insect is incredibly aerobatic and sometimes flies very high up into the sky.

  • Total length: 74 to 85 mm
  • Hind Wing: 40 to 51 mm
  • Flight period in Iberia: May to September
  • Habitat: Streams, rivers, water tanks and drinking troughs. (Prefers colder water)
  • Distribution: Iberian peninsular
Golden-ringed dragonfly - Cordulegaster boltonii - La libélula tigre
Habits and habitat of Golden-ringed dragonfly – Cordulegaster boltonii – La libélula tigre

The female lays eggs in shallow water, and the hairy larvae live at the bottom of the water, well camouflaged amongst the silt. They emerge after about 2–5 years, usually under the cover of darkness.

In general, golden-ringed dragonflies reproduce in middle and upper river and stream courses with perennial water bodies that are cold and supplied with oxygen. They can also be found in springs, water tanks, fountains, and drinking troughs in middle and upper mountains. They are a good indicator of water quality.

Usually seen flying low along the rivers and streams where the vegetation is dense and there are willows. When at rest, they hang vertically or diagonally and fully open their wings. They rest on trees, bushes, and tall grasses on sunny mornings and in shady areas when it is hot. They fly far away from the place where they mate, so they can be seen well away from water bodies.


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The Caminito del Rey

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Wildside Holidays – Spain

Take a trip on the Wildside! Discover the wildlife and nature of Spain, its Natural and National Parks and find the top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies.

Iberia Nature Forum

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Red-striped oil beetle – Berberomeloe majalis – Aceitera

  • Scientific: Berberomeloe majalis (Linnaeus, 1758) also Meloe majalis
  • English: Red-striped Oil Beetle (Blister Beetle)
  • Spanish: Curita / Aceitera
  • Family Carabidae (Ground Beetles)
  • Distribution: Most of Iberia, Southern France and the coastal fringe of North Africa

The Red-striped Oil Beetle – Berberomeloe majalis – Aceitera can reach a length of 6 cm. The basic colour is black with a red or orange stripe crossing each body segment. With the legs positioned towards the front of the body the cylindrical abdomen is dragged along the ground. There are tiny elytra on the thorax but this beetle is unable to fly.

Short video of a Red-striped oil beetle

Update May 2021

The scientists that seemingly never sleep have now decided that there are many more species (sub species?) of blister beetle in Spain. they have been named in accordance to cultural and local customs so…

  • Berberomeloe castuo is found in Extremadura and is named after the local Extremeño accent “el castuo”.
  • Berberomeloe comunero is named after the historic uprisings in Castilla.
  • Berberomeloe indalo after the Neolithic rock figure of the Indalo in Almeria
  • Berberomeloe payoya in Cádiz and Malaga, named after the goat that produces milk to create the payoyo cheese.
  • The deep black coloration of the specimens from the peaks of Sierra Nevada and Filabres are now Berberomeloe tenebrosus.
  • In Morocco, Berberomeloe yebli is named after the inhabitants and culture of Yebala

The full scientific article can be found here: https://academic.oup.com/zoolinnean/article/189/4/1249/5714599


Red-striped Oil Beetle - Berberomeloe majalis - Aceitera
Red-striped Oil Beetle – Berberomeloe majalis – Aceitera

Why not join in and add your images to the topic over at the Iberia Nature Forum? New members are always welcome 🙂 https://iberianatureforum.com/forums/topic/6-new-species-of-oil-blister-beetle/

These large beetles tend to be localized and can often be seen in groups in the spring if the habitat is favourable. They live on sandy soils with mixed grasses and sparse scrub in woods and orchards or more open terrain. The female is much larger than the male with the shape and colouration being the same. A male will follow a female persistently until he is accepted as a mate.

Red-striped Oil Beetle - Berberomeloe majalis - Aceitera
Red-striped Oil Beetle – Berberomeloe majalis – Aceitera

After copulation the female will lay thousands of eggs in the ground in the vicinity of solitary bees. The elongated hatched larvae climb up to a flower. Here they await a bee. It must be a solitary bee and with their strong claws they hitch a ride back to the bee’s nest.

Once inside the nest a host egg is consumed and the beetle larva takes up residence in the cell. They continue to grow by feeding on the food mass stored for the bee pupa.

Many eggs are laid by the female but few will reach maturity due to the complex combination of events that will place it in a bee’s nest where it may grow and complete its transformation. If a larva accidentally selects a honey bee as host, it dies in the hive

When fully matured they leave the bees nest and as an adult are herbivores, feeding on different plant leaves and flowers.

Red-striped Oil Beetle - Berberomeloe majalis - Aceitera
Red-striped Oil Beetle – Berberomeloe majalis – Aceitera

If these adult beetles feel threatened a defense mechanism is to secrete an oily substance that is toxic, hence the common English name. This liquid can cause skin to blister and will be very painful if it makes contact with your eyes.

Berberomeloe insignis

In the coastal areas of Murcia, Almeria, Granada and Malaga there is another species which is endemic to these areas of Spain, Berberomeloe insignis. The shape and size are similar but this species is completely black over its body with two or three red patches on its head only.

Berberomeloe insignis
Berberomeloe insignis

At present, their survival is seriously threatened by housing developments, golf courses and greenhouses. The first two have drastically reduced the size of their habitat, while the heavy use of pesticides for intensive crops under plastic appears to have severely damaged the fauna of wild bees in the region, on whose nests the larvae of Berberomeloe depend.

Red-striped Oil Beetle - Berberomeloe majalis - Aceitera
Oil Beetle – Berberomeloe insignis – Aceitera

The Spanish common names are many, the two most used are:

  • Curita – used in Andalusia for its resemblance to the look of seminary students who historically wore black cassocks with a red waist band.
  • Aceitera – as they are capable of releasing a toxic and oily liquid, containing cantharidin.

A few comments about this beetle

written by Stephen Daly, December 02, 2008
Hi All! One of the more curious rural stories about the use of this particular insect was told to me one day several years ago by an Andaluccian farmer, near where we live.
He had kept cattle all his life and said that in order to stop the calves taking it’s mothers milk, they would smear some oil beetles on the udder and teats of the cow. He told me that the calf would only try this once – never attempting this again so foul is the taste!
I did have some thoughts for the poor beetles as well!

written by Paulo, February 05, 2009
The portuguese name that is used in the Alentejo region is “vaca-loira”.

written by Admin, February 05, 2009
That’s a great story Stephen, thanks

And thank you to Paulo for the Alentejo name of this interesting little bug…. Do you know why it has this name? I get “Vaca” meaning “cow” but Loira I looked up in a dictionary and it said this meant “Blonde” or “pale”

Why would it be called a “blonde cow” ?

written by Paulo, February 06, 2009
Indeed, you got the meaning right: it does mean blonde cow in portuguese. I don’t know exactly where that name comes from, but I would guess the “yellow (loira)” part would either derive from the orange stripes or would be phonetically derived from “louca” (I have also seen this name being used: “vaca-louca”, mad cow), perhaps due to its extreme defense mechanism.

written by Louise , June 13, 2009
We live adjacent to a golf course in Alcaidesa, Southern Spain and we recently came across this unusual creature. We googled its description and found it in this chain discussion. Does anyone know whether this beetle originates from this area or did it migrate from elsewhere.

Given that we have only seen one does this mean that there will be larger numbers in the vicinity?

Louise

written by Anthea, June 20, 2009
Last year I found many of these wonderful, curious red-striped creatures, at the end of March, in the countryside near Asilah, south of Tangier in Morocco. Perhaps this accounts for the berber part of berbermeloe majalis. Do they turn into something else or is that it?

Anthea

written by Dean Adams, September 04, 2009
Hi
I visited Andulacia this year at the end of May and beginning of June and saw this beetle in several locations including the Wolf Park near Antequera, Laguna de Fuente de Piedra and at Saydo Park near Mollina. The beetles seem fearless, bold as brass, no doubt because of their noxious chemical protection. Thank you for providing a positive id of what type of oil beetle it is. I took photos, let me know if they are of any use.
Dean

written by Sally, May 04, 2010
These are common between Novo Sancti Petri and Roche (on the coast south of Cadiz in Andalucia) – they’re certainly completely unconcerned about their safety, now I know why! I’m guessing any cow that had these things smeared on her udders probably would be pretty mad – and who could blame her!! And I’m very grateful to Scott Fessey at Bristol Zoo in the UK who kindly guided me to this website when I sent him a photo and asked him to identify the beetle. Thanks Scott 😀

written by Richard Thomas, February 03, 2011
I have seen B. insignis almost literally on the border of Granada and Malaga provinces (about 10km from the sea and at c. 1000m altitude in the Sierra de Almijarra), so it’s a fair bet that they are found in MA as well as MU, AL & GR. And it was this website that enabled me to identify it: thank you.

written by Kjellin, March 25, 2011
We have also the Aceitera in Murcia, but not with the red stripes.

written by Kris Fosdike, April 19, 2011
Saw the female Aceitera hotly persued ( seemed liked stuck)by a male in the mountain above Montecorto, in the Serrania de Ronda on this Palm Sunday, 17th April 2011. Both had 6 bright red/orange stripes. They were walking across the camino. Both were about 60mm, so fully grown I’d guess. Wonderful sight, but had to indentify them. Glad I found this site.

written by Andrew jones, May 13, 2011
I have just returned from a holiday in Portugal and we saw many of these creatures in exactly the terrain described near a fabulous group of standing stones just outside Evora in the Alentejo. It was correctly identified by my friend Desmond from a photo I took with one in my hand – had I known the possible consequences of physical contact with this extraordinary beast I might have been less bold, but then I wouldn’t have got the picture nor known what it was! No harmful effects to date! If anyone would like to see my photo I’d be happy to send it.

written by Karen Henderson, May 17, 2011
I live in inland Alicante in the mountain region of Pinoso. My son and I saw one of these red-striped beetles for the first time in four years of living in this area. It was crossing a tarmac road surrounded by scrub land. It was large enough for us to notice it from the car so we stopped to have a closer look. It was at least 6cm long, if not a little more. Luckily we weren’t tempted to touch it as we weren’t sure what it was!


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