The beetle that visits the vet Print E-mail
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Monday, 28 January 2019 12:10
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Cheryl McCrindle

An Anthia beetle brought to a veterinary practice at Kaalfontein for identification in November 2013, still comes visiting in 2019.

About five years ago, Lisa Kohlberg brought two beetles from a farm east of Rayton into the practice. She wanted to know if they could cause eye problems in horses.

They were in a jam jar with a bit of sand and some leaves and stayed on the reception desk at the practice for about a week. Lisa had noticed a large number of these beetles in a paddock where the horses seemed to have very irritated eyes. We identified the beetles and as we found out more about them, we could give her the answer.

These Carabid ground beetles  are called Anthia or the sabre toothed ground beetle. They are about 4–5 cm long and black in colour with white or cream warning markings. In Afrikaans they are called “oogpisters”, which describes their ability to squirt a highly irritant fluid at the eyes of any human, animal or bird.

The beetle eats a bit of dog food from a teaspoon
Photo’s: Laurika van der Linde

We released the two beetles into the veld behind our practice at the end of November 2013, as they were quite cute and we didn’t want to harm them. Interesting enough, they both came to visit us a few times during the following months, but disappeared in the winter.

Then they both reappeared the following year when the rainy season began. Sadly, one of them was eaten, we think by a lizard or bird, as we found pieces of its exoskeleton in the small garden outside our back door.

However, the other beetle continues to visit. He (maybe she) comes inside and seems to respond to our voices. He has never tried to squirt at us. This year I gave him a bit of wet dog food  in a teaspoon and he really enjoyed it.

As a scientist, I am totally amazed that this beetle has lived so long and seems to be intelligent enough to recognise that it can safely visit us. It does not visit any of the other shops.

So, we have a very special pet, who chooses to be a friend to those humans who interact with it. This beetle species is also environmentally friendly as it is not aggressive unless attacked and eats a variety of insect pests, such as ants.

Although they cannot fly, they are fast running ground predators that eat grasshoppers and other insects, including those that eat manure, such as flies and maggots. The name ‘sabre tooth beetle’ describes their large mandibles, mainly used for grasping prey, but they can bite people who try to pick them up.

The pet beetle comes to visit

Carabid ground beetles are known to be able to produce and release a variety of chemicals (aldehydes, hydrocarbons, quinones, phenols and organic acid) from an opening at the end of their abdomens. This can be squirted about 30–40 cm.

These beetles are not poisonous, but the irritant fluid can burn the eyes of people or other animals, including horses, cattle and dogs. The cornea becomes reddened and inflamed and there are a lot of tears from the affected eye.

Treatment consists of washing out the eyes with a slightly alkaline solution such as bicarbonate of soda (half to one teaspoon per cup of water) and using eye ointments containing cortisone (obtainable from your doctor or veterinarian).

  • The photos were taken when the beetle visited us early in December 2018 and he has just visited us again this week (9 January 2019) now that the rains have come. 


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