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the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Meloidae (blister beetles, oil beetles, CMR 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: Cucujoidea

Elongate, soft-bodied beetles with the pronotum narrower than the elytra and also tapered at the large head, forming a narrow 'neck'. Medium to large sized beetles (20-50mm) and vary in colour - black, grey, brown metallic, yellow and red. Some are alarm-coloured in red and black or yellow and black, warning of their distastefulness and toxicity. The term CMR beetles relates to yellow and black colours of the Cape Mounted Riflemen (1911-1922) uniforms.

Subfamily Meloinae


Subfamily Zonitinae  


Adult Blister Beetles feed on flowers, nectar and foliage. Some Blister beetles, lay their eggs in the soil and the larvae feed on grasshopper eggs. Others lay their eggs in flowers and those larvae attach themselves to visiting bees and get taken back to the nests where they feed on pollen and nectar.  Beetle larvae that cooperate to mimic amorous bees.

Adults secrete liquids in the leg joints that contain the poison cantharadin. This may blister the skin and if ingested, can be fatal. One of these beetles, Lytta vesicatoria, is referred to as Spanish Fly. The crushed powder of  the Spanish Fly has been known as an aphrodisiac. The cantharides cause inflammation of the urethral passage and genitals, thereby heightening the passion and ardour. However, this ardour could be severely doused should the effective dose be exceeded as this is dangerously close to an overdose, leading to a permanent end to all pursuits of passion. Cantharides cause painful urination, fever, and sometimes bloody discharge and can cause permanent damage to genitals and kidneys.


  • Bologna, M.A., Fattorini, S. & Pinto, J.D. 2001. Review of the primitive blister beetle genus Iselma, with a description of the first instar larva (Coleoptera: Tenebrionoidea: Meloidae). African Entomology 9: 105-129.

  • Bologna, M.A. & Pinto, J.P. 2001. Phylogenetic studies of the Meloidae (Coleoptera), with emphasis on the evolution of phoresy. Systematic Entomology 26: 33-72.

  • Bologna, M.A. & Pinto. J.D. in press. The Old World genera of Meloidae (Coleoptera): a key and synopsis. Journal of Natural History 

Page by Margie Cochrane