In the fifth century BC, an account from India reported a mysterious bird whose orange droppings excreted a poison, that in amounts no bigger then a grain of wheat, could bring down a man. Similarly, in China in 739 AD, there appears a description of a beetle poison so strong it could remove tattoos, boils or ringworms. It has been speculated that those bright orange “bird” droppings and the mysterious Chinese beetle are actually one and the same, the Paederus beetle, better known today as the Nairobi fly.
The Paederus beetle is attracted to our modern lighting fixtures but when the light switch goes off they have a natural tendency to simply let go, dropping from onto whatever unfortunate soul is sitting or sleeping below. Though they do not bite or sting, when they hit our skin, we humans have a habit of swatting them. When crushed these beetles release a toxic poison called Pederin.
Pederin can cause rashes that often lead to blisters, and even serious infection if the wound is not kept clean. If this poison gets in the eye it can cause excruciating pain and even temporary blindness, known as “Nairobi eye.”
Despite their namesake, the Paederus beetle is found outside of Kenya. This beetle has managed to cause some serious inconvenience for military troops around the world whose bright base lights attract the bugs in mass numbers.
Though the bite from the Paederus beetle can be seriously annoying, there is hope that it may do good as well. The poison that was once used by the ancient Chinese for tattoo removal is currently being experimented with as an antitumor agent in cancer patients.