Tomcats Spotted in Bali and Java

Tomcats Spotted in Bali – One Insect You Don’t Ever Want to Squash

There is something new that has been causing panic around Bali these days and it surprisingly has nothing to do with terrorists being executed on the island or anything of the sort. The Tomcat as it is known in Indonesia (Rove Beetle in English) has been making a guest appearance throughout the archipelago in limited numbers over the past month. While resembling most other insects that you might not bat an eye at, the Tomcat possesses some unique characteristics that you should be watching out for.

What a Tomcat is and what separates it from other insects

The Tomcat is a small insect that looks almost like a long ant and usually is black and brown in color on the body. The Tomcat has been historically linked to ancient plagues although no one is really expecting to see any disasters like that happening ever again. Climate change usually brings them around and their recent sightings across Java, as well as isolated cases in Bali and Lombok are expected to stop once the dry season is in full swing. The thing that makes people get all antsy whenever they hear the Tomcat is around, is the toxin that they carry containing pederin – an irritant that is reported to be much more potent than that of Cobra venom. Don’t worry though, unless you managed to get it into your bloodstream like a Cobra’s fangs could do, the worst people usually get from the Tomcat is mild to severe rashes or skin irritation, sometimes resulting in puss-filled wounds.

How the toxin actually works

The Tomcat releases the toxin on anything it touches, especially human skin. Direct contact is not needed to experience skin discomfort or irritation however as the toxin can be left behind on your towels, furniture or other things in your house. Secondhand contact might not cause the same level of irritation as direct contact but it is still wise to be precautious especially if you have seen them hanging around your house as of late.

Preventing contact and irritation if you do come in contact with one

This first rule of the Tomcat is much different than almost any other insect out there. DON’T SQUASH IT! No matter how much you hate creepy crawly insects, try to resist the urge to smash it and grind it, like the Ibu at the warung using a mortar and pestle to make sambal. You might end up with less irritation rubbing that sambal directly on your skin. Even crushing the insect with shoes or sandals on is not a great idea because it can spread the toxin into the air and will definitely be left behind on your shoe.

Your best bet is to keep some insect repellent around your house and if you come into contact with one, spray it until it isn’t moving anymore. Then you can pick it with some tools, keeping the insect far away from your skin. Disposing of it in the toilet is your best bet, just like you would with a tick. After that, thoroughly wash your hands and other places or materials that came in contact with the Tomcat.

Treating yourself if you do come in contact with the Tomcat

Most normal remedies for skin irritation are pretty ineffective for treating irritation from the Tomcat’s toxin and some can even make it worse. Your best bet is either hydrocortisone (1%), betamethasone and neomycin sulfate antibiotic or acyclovir 5% which have all been found to be effective in the treatment of skin irritation caused by the insect’s toxin.

Don’t be too alarmed – just take general precautions

Chances are that you will never even run into one while you are here in Bali. There have only been a few reported sightings so far in Bali, but it is important that you know not to treat them like any normal insect. Walking around barefoot outdoors may not be a good idea for a bit as you run the risk of stepping on one. Tomcats are good for farmers though as they eat other insects that can be harmful to crops. Just like the poisonous snakes that kill other rodents and vermin, every creature has its place in the world.


‘Tomcat’ Beetles Run Riot in Indonesia
By webadmin on 09:04 am Mar 30, 2012
Category Archive
Zakir Hussain – Straits Times

Insects are an inescapable part of life in Indonesia, but a recent infestation of one species has got many people itching and irritated. The latest scourge is tomcats, or rove beetles, which are being dislodged from their habitats near areas making way for development.

Many people have suffered acute dermatitis and swelling to the skin after coming into contact with the insects.

The rising number of such cases has led the Health Ministry to put public health centres across Java, the country’s most heavily populated island, on alert this week. By yesterday, reports had emerged of tomcat attacks in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Quarantine officials at ports and airports in high-risk areas have been ordered to carry out fumigation to prevent an outbreak, Professor Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the ministry’s director-general for disease control and environmental health, said on Monday.

But he added that there was no need for people to panic, as the insects were not lethal.

The black-and-orange beetles, often no longer than 10mm, got their name because their slim bodies and curved rears resemble the F-14 Tomcat fighter jets once used by the United States Navy.

But unlike the aircraft that have since been retired from service, the beetles are still roving. An infestation was first reported in the middle of this month at a housing complex in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city.

Last week, more than 160 people in the city were reported to have sought treatment after falling prey. More cases were reported in nearby towns.

Soon, inflammations were reported in Yogyakarta and Bali. Local newspapers and TV stations devoted column inches and airtime to the threat as cases were reported elsewhere as well.

The ensuing alarm led officials to step in to call for calm, with Prof Tjandra explaining that investigations into the initial outbreak showed that patients had recovered within a week.

“We suggest people protect themselves by using insect spray,” he added.

Schools have begun teaching students how to identify and react to the tomcats.

Senior presidential staff Heru Lelono told the media there was nothing to worry about, although he acknowledged the initial itching could be bothersome.

He told of how his face had reddened after a visit to a rice field in Bali several months ago, but he recovered fully within a week after getting an injection and medication.

Entomologist Aunu Rauf of the Bogor Agricultural University said Tomcats “do not bite and do not sting.”

But most people mistakenly react to a beetle landing on their skin by crushing it, he noted. This puts them in contact with a potent toxin called pederin in the insect’s torso that causes the skin to redden and blister.

“Do not ever hold it, or kill the insect. Banish it carefully by blowing or with a piece of paper,” he cautioned.

Similar attacks have taken place in China, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Malaysia over the past decade. Lesser outbreaks have also been seen in East Java.

Rauf attributed the current outbreak to a number of factors: The harvest season, rising number of pests, and housing projects near padi fields and swampland make it more conducive for tomcats to breed and get closer to people.

But he advised against exterminating the creatures, as they perform an invaluable role in curbing pests that feed on rice and other crops.

Veterinary parasitology researcher Mohammad Yunus of Surabaya’s Airlangga University told Tempo magazine that the usual habitats of the tomcats, where the infestation first broke out in the city, had been destroyed to build an access road.

“They had to adapt once their living environment changed,” he said.

The fear is that as more fields give way to houses, such outbreaks will recur, unless people adapt in the way they deal with tomcats. But for now, the scientists expect the tomcat population to shrink soon as the dry season sets in.

The Tomcat

The insect: Tomcat or rove beetle (paederus fuscipes)

What it looks like to some people: F-14 Tomcat fighter jet

What it does: It produces pederin, a toxic fluid that causes reddening and irritation when it comes in contact with human skin

Where it is usually found: Padi fields and swampy areas

How to handle it: Do not hold with bare hands or kill it. Carefully blow the insect away or use a piece of paper to do so. But if a beetle gets crushed and pederin gets on your skin, rinse the area immediately with soapy water several times. Also, wash clothes or sheets that come into contact with tomcat secretions. Symptoms generally appear 24 hours later.

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