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Diamphidia nigro-ornata (Bushman arrow-poison beetle)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Suborder: Polyphaga
Superfamily: Chrysomeloidea
Family: Chrysomelidae
Genus: Diamphidia

See text.

Diamphidia or Bushman arrow-poison beetle, is an African genus of beetles belonging to the Colorado potato beetle family of Chrysomelidae, the larvae and pupae of which hold a toxic principle used by Bushmen as an arrow poison.[1][2]

Diamphidia nigro-ornata

The Swedish explorer, Hendrik Jacob Wikar who travelled in Southern Africa in 1773–1779 seems to have been the first to report on the "poisonous worms", but Hans Schinz was the first scientist to give a detailed description of the process by which poison was used by the Bushmen.

Species in the genus Diamphidia include:

  • Diamphidia nigro-ornata Stål
  • Diamphidia femoralis Gerstaecker
  • Diamphidia vittatipennis

The adults and larvae of Diamphidia nigro-ornata feed on Commiphora angolensis Engler, while Diamphidia vittatipennis use Commiphora africana (A.Rich.) Engler as a food plant.


Life cycle

Adult females of Diamphidia femoralis Gerstaecker and Diamphidia nigro-ornata Stål lay their eggs on the stems of Commiphora species and coat the eggs with their faeces which harden into a protective covering. As the larval instars develop, the pellets of their own faeces remain attached to their backs and posteriors.[3] The final instar sheds this faecal coat when entering the soil to pupate. The same behaviour is found in Blepharida, a Flea Beetle and Polyclada, the African Leaf Beetle.[3] The Diamphidia larvae burrow down for a depth of up to 1 metre in the sand under the food plant, where they may lie dormant for several years before going through a very rapid pupal phase.


Diamphidia is parasitised by a carabid Lebistina beetle, the larva of which attaches itself to a mature Diamphidia larva, clinging to it until the Diamphidia has formed its cocoon, enclosing both host and parasite, and then feeding on its host's soft tissue. The Lebistina larvae are more toxic than their hosts and are preferred by San hunters for arrow poison.[1]


Diamphotoxin, the poisonous principle in Diamphidia is a highly labile, low molecular weight compound which is bound to a protein protecting it from inactivation.[4][2] It causes an increased permeability of cell walls, which, while not affecting normal ionic flow between cells, allows easy access to all small ions, thereby fatally disrupting normal cellular ionic levels.[5] Although it has no neurotoxic effect, it produces a lethal haemolytic effect, and may reduce haemoglobin levels by as much as 75%, leading to haemoglobinuria.[6]



  1. ^ a b How San hunters use beetles to poison their arrows, Biodiversity Explorer website
  2. ^ a b Woollard JM, Fuhrman FA, Mosher HS (1984). "The Bushman arrow toxin, Diamphidia toxin: isolation from pupae of Diamphidia nigro-ornata". Toxicon 22 (6): 937–46. PMID 6523515.  
  3. ^ a b Chaboo CS, Grobbelaar E, Larsen A, Fecal Ecology in Leaf Beetles: Novel Records in the African Arrow-Poison Beetles, Diamphidia Gerstaecker and Polyclada Chevrolat (Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae) (2007) The Coleopterists Bulletin: Vol. 61, No. 2 pp. 297–309
  4. ^ Mebs D, Brüning F, Pfaff N, Neuwinger HD (July 1982). "Preliminary studies on the chemical properties of the toxic principle from Diamphidia nigroornata larvae, a source of Bushman arrow poison". J Ethnopharmacol 6 (1): 1–11. PMID 7109661.  
  5. ^ TF Jacobsen, O Sand, T Bjøro, HE Karlsen, JG Iversen, Effect of Diamphidia toxin, a Bushman arrow poison, on ionic permeability in nucleated cells, Toxicon (1990) 28: 435–44
  6. ^ CY Kao, MJ Salwen, SL Hu, HM Pitter, JM Woollard, Diamphidia toxin, the bushmen's arrow poison: possible mechanism of prey-killing, Toxicon (1989) 27: 1351–66; accessed on website

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