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Title: Diamphidia  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Diamphidia nigroornata, Commiphora africana, Chrysomelidae, Arrow poison
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


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

Diamphidia or Bushman arrow-poison beetle, is an African genus of leaf beetle. Diamphidia in the Chrysomelidae family, the same family as the Colorado potato beetle.

The larvae and pupae of Diamphidia produce a toxin used by Bushmen as an arrow poison.[1][2] The Finnish explorer Hendrik Jacob Wikar, who travelled in Southern Africa in 1773–1779, described the larvae as "poisonous worms". Hans Schinz was the first scientist to document the process by which the Bushmen extract and use the poison.

The adults and larvae of Diamphidia nigroornata feed on Commiphora angolensis (Engler), whereas Diamphidia vittatipennis eat African myrrh.

Life cycle

Adult females of Diamphidia femoralis Gerstaecker and Diamphidia nigroornata Stål lay their eggs on the stems of Commiphora species and coat the eggs with their faeces which hardens 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.


Diamphotoxin, the poisonous compound in Diamphidia, is highly labile, and has a low molecular weight. It is bound to a protein that protects it from deactivation.[4][2] It causes an increased permeability of cell membranes, 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]

Parasite host

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]



  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.  
  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.  
  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

External links

  • Harvard Entomology Database
  • Biodiversity Explorer
  • African Ethnobotany
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