This Toxin-Emitting Beetle Is Not A Crunchy Salad Topping

Image courtesy of Maybe save this post until you're done eating your salad.
This photo has been censored for your protection. The real photos are at the end of this post. Don’t scroll down if you’re eating salad, maybe.

This photo has been censored for your protection. The real photos are at the end of this post. Don’t scroll down if you’re eating salad, maybe.

Small animals love vegetables, and so do people. Sometimes small animals end up harvested along with vegetables, slip through safeguards in the system, and end up in our bowls. Usually, these are harmless, but what if they aren’t? Four people in different places have found potentially toxic beetles in their salad greens, and we really, really hope that there aren’t more out there lurking in more salads.

All four of these critters were reported to the ever-useful r/whatsthisbug subreddit, where users correctly identified the salad beetles as Tegrodera aloga, the Iron Cross blister beetle. (We contacted several universities seeking information about blister beetles: a real-life entomologist, Lynn Kimsey of UC Davis, confirmed the bug’s identity.)

All four were in organic lettuce, spinach, or packaged salads. Two reports were in Illinois, one in Virginia, and one in Ohio. None of those are areas where the Iron Cross blister beetle normally hangs out: while different species of blister beetles are scattered all over the world, this species is supposed to live in the American Southwest and Mexico. Not in Ohio. Not in salad containers.

Here’s the problem with these beetles hanging out in food: when stressed, they give off a substance called cantharidin, which is toxic. While eating one beetle probably wouldn’t seriously harm a healthy adult, it would make them sick. Touching the beetle directly is unwise, too: it can cause skin blistering, and can even be used (by qualified professionals) for wart removal. Eating insects that give off cantharidin or plants that these insects have contaminated has been known to kill farm animals, and toddlers have been documented eating cousins to these beetles and becoming critically ill as a result.

In an e-mail to one customer, Earthbound Farm explained that “Organic farming utilizes beneficial insects as part of the growing process, because certified organic food is grown without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides and insecticides,” they explained. “These beneficial insects work diligently to prevent other insects from damaging our crops.” Which is good, but blister beetles are not one of those beneficial insects. They have the potential to harm consumers.

If you’ve spotted one of these beetles in your salad, let us know. More importantly, let the company that packaged the product and the Food and Drug Administration know. Call them to file a complaint. Even if they can’t do anything in your individual case, reporting incidents like this to the government helps them to notice patterns and investigate them.



[Northern Virginia] Beetle found in a friend’s salad. [Reddit]
Found this sealed in a salad at work. Any idea what kind of bug it is? [Reddit]
Found this little guy in our spinach, what is he? [Reddit]
Found in a salad. Central Ohio. [Reddit]

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