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Diamphidia (arrow poison beetles)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dicondyla > Pterygota > Metapterygota > Neoptera > Eumetabola > Holometabola > Coleoptera (beetles) > Polyphaga > Superfamily: Chrysomeloidea > Family: Chrysomelidae > Subfamily: Alticinae

Some species are used by San ('bushmen') as sources of poison for their arrows.

Life cycle of Diamphidia nigroornata

Adult. Feed on the host plant by day and if disturbed they quickly drop to the ground or fly off. 





Eggs are elongate, ovate with an orange tint and are laid on the branches of Commiphora plants (right) in batches of up to 15 eggs each, closely attached to one another. After laying a batch of eggs, the female covers it  with greenish excrement, using her back legs to build up the deposit. On drying, this excrement becomes dark-brown in colour and becomes well camouflaged against the branch to which it is attached.

Larvae pass through three instars (i.e. stages: each instar is separated by moulting of the cuticle). They feed on the leaves of the host plant. 


Larvae are parasitised by a species of Carabidae beetle called Lebistina holubi. The Lebistina larvae by attaching themselves to full-grown Diamphidia vittatipennis larvae, get into their cocoons where they feed on blood and soft parts of the Diamphidia larvae, eventually killing them. 


Upon completion of  their development on the host plant, the larvae burrow  down 0.5 - 1 m  into the sandy soil in close proximity to the host plant bush. They then makes a cocoon round themselves from sand, and secretions from the anal region. The larvae remain curled up in the cocoon for up to several years before finally moulting into pupae. This variable period of arrested development explains why San hunters are able to find cocoons throughout the year, for using as poison on their arrows.

[All photographs by HG Robertson, Iziko . Photographed in  'Bushmanland', NE Namibia, in  February 1996]  



Read about how San hunters use the cocoons as a source of poison for their arrows.


  • Koch, C. 1958. Preliminary notes on the coleopterological aspect of the arrow poison of the bushmen. Pamphlet of the South African Biological Society 20: 49-54. 

Text  and photos by Hamish Robertson