14 July 2017

Poison for the arrows of bushmen

Beetles of the genus Diamphidia lay their eggs on the stems of shrubs from the Commiphora genus – commonly known as frankincense and myrrh. The doting mothers then coat their precious eggs with their own feces (that’s faeces for my UK friends), which harden into a protective armor. As the eggs develop through the instar and grub phases, the larvae will shed their poo protection and burrow up to (down to?) three feet, where they make a cocoon from sand and take a needed break. They may lay dormant for several years before molting into pupae, and continue their life cycle. This long dormancy period means that the Bushmen can find the cocoons and larvae year-round and have a ready supply of poison, especially important since mature beetles are not poisonous.

The Bushmen, also known as the San people, dig beside Commiphora host plants, such as Commiphora angolensis, in search of Diamphidia nigroornata, or Commiphora africana for Diamphidia vittatipennis. Once collected, the Bushmen will squeeze the fluid from the larvae and pupae, otherwise known as hemolymph, onto the shaft of their arrows, but not the tip, to avoid “accidents.” Up to ten larvae could be applied to one arrow, which is then dried over hot coals to bond the poison, which maintains its lethal potential for up to a year.
More info at Nature's Poisons, a quite interesting website.  The toxicity was originally assumed to be neurotoxicity and some cardiotoxicity, but recent studies suggest hemolysis as a primary mechanism.

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