21 March 2012

Tomcats are coming

And these aren't the tomcats we westerners know and perhaps love. At lunch on Monday, Dewi showed Connie and me some truly scary photos of the blistered rashes caused by a creepy-crawlie that looks like a cross between an ant and a scorpion — with orange and black stripes thrown in for dramatic effect. Paederus riparius (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae) is a type of rove beetle related to critters who may have been responsible for some of the biblical plagues. At least that's what Wikipedia says: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paederus.

The super-efficient PA in Michael's office has now booked our tickets for Yogyakarta 30 March - 2 April. While trying to find a link to the article that Michael saw in today's Jakarta Globe, I also came across the unwanted information that tomcats are now in that vicinity. Reports say they're in Jakarta, too, so we're just glad to know what they look like so we can keep our distance.

Even  Google images doesn't have photos as disturbing as those that are circulating via social media. I thought my bedbug reaction in St Petersburg was bad (http://www.magpiesalmagundi.com/2009/02/cimex-lectularius.html), but that was nothing compared to the skin lesions caused by the poisonous fluid tomcats secrete.


Development In Surabaya Sets Off Itchy Rash of Insects
Dessy Sagita, Amir Tejo & Vento Saudale | March 21, 2012
A child shows off captured ‘tomcat’ insects in Kenjeran, Surabaya, on Tuesday. Residents in Surabaya have reported infestations of the rash-causing insects in 12 of its 31 subdistricts. JG Photo/Syafii A child shows off captured ‘tomcat’ insects in Kenjeran, Surabaya, on Tuesday. Residents in Surabaya have reported infestations of the rash-causing insects in 12 of its 31 subdistricts. JG Photo/Syafii
 Health officials are calling for calm following an outbreak of skin rashes and irritations across Surabaya linked to bugs driven out of their natural habitats by property developers.

The local agriculture agency said on Tuesday that 12 of the city’s 31 districts had reported cases of skin irritations resulting from fluid secretions from the rove beetle, known locally as the tomcat bug.

Ketut Suharto, an agriculture agency official, told local TV stations that the bugs were being found in residential areas, drawn into people’s homes by bright lights at night.

Residents of the Pakuwon City residential estate and students at SD Al Muttaqien, an Islamic elementary school, were among those reporting severe rashes after coming into contact with the beetles. The graphic images of the rashes have also made the rounds on social media.

Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the Health Ministry’s director general for disease control and environmental health, said the beetles did not bite, but rather secreted a poisonous fluid.

“If you find one of these insects, don’t crush it because then the poison could come into contact with your skin,” he said.

“Just put them inside a plastic bag carefully and throw it in a safe place.”

The beetle looks similar to an ant, but it has a more elongated body with orange and black striations. When threatened, it raises its abdomen in the manner of a scorpion.

The fluid it excretes contains paederin, which can cause dermatitis or blisters 24 to 48 hours after contact with the skin.

“The blisters can be infectious through towels, clothes or other things that come in contact with the paederin,” Tjandra said.

He added at least 48 residents had so far sought treatment at local clinics for skin irritation caused by the rove beetle.

Those who do come into contact with the bugs are advised to thoroughly rinse the affected skin under flowing water, scrub it with soap and wipe it with an antiseptic solution. A cold compress can also be applied to prevent blisters from spreading.

Tjandra said health officials in Surabaya were spraying pesticide in the bug-infested areas and educating residents about what to do if they encountered the beetles.

However, Teguh Riyanto, the head of the agriculture agency’s pest eradication unit, said it was virtually impossible to get rid of all the rove beetles.

“Their range is too large, so it’s ineffective to try to spray pesticide everywhere,” he said.

He also warned that the indiscriminate use of pesticide could prompt undue panic about the extent of the infestation.

“The only way to stem the outbreak of rashes is to avoid wet or moist areas, which is where these insects typically nest,” he said.

Teguh added that it was important for housing estate managers to cover any standing water to keep the bugs from breeding.

“The areas the bugs are now attacking used to be swamps and have been developed for housing estates,” he said.

Aunu Rauf, an entomologist at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), blamed the infestation on the destruction of Surabaya’s mangrove swamps, a key habitat for the rove beetle.

“With the destruction of their habitat, they’re forced to seek out other areas with similar characteristics,” he said.

“That means they’ll be looking for places that are moist and where there are smaller insects that they can prey on.”

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