The body fluids in the rove beetle are a poisonous animal contact toxin. Contact with the beetle can cause a severe skin reaction.
The rove beetle is small, 7-8mm long. It has a black head with an orange/red thorax (immediately behind the head). The body is mostly black with a shiny metallic black area that conceals its folded wings and a distinct broad orange/red band towards the tapered tail.
Rove beetles do not bite or sting but their blood contains a strong toxin called pederin that can cause skin and eye irritations
If you crush the beetle the toxin is released and absorbed by your skin. The beetle can be crushed if you swat it like a fly or mosquito or if it collides with you at speed (such as bare skin on a motorbike) and can cause conjunctivitis, severe dermatitis (rash) and serious skin irritation.
Initial symptoms include reddening of the skin, and a 'burning' sensation. This is followed by painful irritation and itching, with extensive pustules and blistering of the skin after 4 days.
The affected areas remain irritated, blistered and sore for 10 days. Toxin on the hands, or exposure near body joints, can spread toxin to other areas of the body and to others.
Avoid touching rove beetles. Blow or wash beetles off your skin. Minimise lighting in infested areas at night. Wear long-sleeved and long-legged clothing to minimise exposed skin. Keep insect screens closed on tents to keep the beetles out of bedding. Have bottles of soapy water handy for first aid. Use the buddy system to keep a lookout for beetles on others.
If a rove beetle is accidentally crushed against the skin, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water. The toxin slowly penetrates the skin. Washing shortly after exposure will remove much of the toxin before it has time to harm the skin.
There is no specific first aid available for exposure to rove beetle toxin. Avoid contact with the beetle. Avoid ingestion. If exposed to rove beetle toxin, wash affected area immediately with soapy water, and then use cold compresses, antihistamines, or apply aloe vera to alleviate the symptoms on exposed areas.
Seek medical attention for severe skin reactions to the toxin.
For further information you can call 1300 066 055 to talk to your local Public Health Unit.