The following week we join an all-day game drive which involves getting up at 5:00 a.m. and sitting in the back of a safari jeep for two hours in order to reach Moremi Game Reserve. This game reserve is where we see the pack of wild dogs I wrote about.
The jeep holds nine people. We’re in fantastic luck, because two German couples have brought a personal guide. He’s from Namibia but comes often to Botswana. Uwe and I tag along for free on a personally guided tour as he identifies animal tracks and vegetation and gives fascinating and detailed talks on every single animal we spot. (A pair of sleeping lionesses, African buffalo, zebras, impalas, fish eagles, elephants, wildebeests, springboks, and much, much more.) He has phenomenal knowledge about everything – politics, history, the land, the region, the flora and fauna.
We take a break for lunch and are allowed to climb out of the jeep for a bit. I ask him if he knows about the insect life, too, and tell him about my encounter with the battery-acid exuding bug….
He asks some questions, cautions me to keep the wound covered at all times, and tells me, “It must have been a Mopane moth, named for the endemic bush veld here.”
I’m relieved beyond description to finally have an actual name for what bit me! But that night back at the lodge I go online and the Mopane moth doesn’t look anything like I remember. Crap. My feeling of relief vanishes.
The next morning at breakfast Uwe and I stop at the table where the German couples and guide sit so we can chat one last time and say goodbye. The guide looks at me and says, “You know, last night when I returned to my room, I kept thinking about your story. I called a colleague and told him about it. He thinks the insect was a blister beetle.”
I don’t believe what I’m hearing. After a 13-hour day riding around on bone-jarring dirt roads lecturing to tourists, he went back to his room and called a colleague to consult with him about my insect attack?! Who does this sort of thing? A man who is a naturalist, a professional always curious to know more, and a fabulous human being!
Back in our room I google yet another insect and sure enough, there it is: the blister beetle. When I brushed it off my neck, it secreted a blistering fluid called cantharidin. It’s a dangerous burn agent, and in large doses it’s fatal.
There are about 7,500 kinds of blister beetles in the world (oh, joy). It gets weirder. Male blister beetles secrete cantharidin as a ‘gift’ during mating. Cantharidin is used for the notorious aphrodisiac Spanish fly. In 1772, the Marquis de Sade was put on trial after he poisoned an orgy with cantharidin.
Maybe that beetle was trying to make love to me after all.
NOTES: ©2023 Jadi Campbell. This post is for my father. He was an entomologist and I swear I can hear him chuckling. Bobbo would have LOVED this story. If for some creepy reason you need to know more, go here: Blister beetle Photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.
P.S. My skin healed over without leaving a scar. Thanks for asking!
My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded and The Trail Back Out.
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