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ETYMOLOGY: Latin cantharis, cantharid-, from Greek kantharis, from kantharos.
English: Spanish Fly
The whole dried fly
Animalia; Insecta (Hexapoda) - Insects; Rhynchota / Hemiptera; Coleoptera - Beetles (countless families.); Cantharidae
It was introduced in Homoeopathy by Hahnemann. Allens Encyclop. Mat. Med. Vol. II, 505.
Description of the substance
This fly of the middle and south of Europe, appears in the months of May and June, especially on the white popular, privet, ash elder, lilac, etc., upon the leaves of which they feed. The insect is about half an inch long, of a golden yellow - green; head inclined, almost cordiform; antennae filiform, of twelve joints, black; antennulae equally filiform, the posterior swollen at the extremity; eyes large, of a deep brown; mouth with an upper lip and two bifid jaws; body elongated, almost round and cylindric; two wings; elytrae soft, semi - cylindric, marked with longitudinal streaks; head and feet full of whitish hairs; the odour is sweetish, nauseous; taste very acrid, almost caustic. The larvae of these insects have yellowish - white bodies formed of three rings, six short feet, rounded head, two short filiform antennae, two jaws and four feelers; they live in the ground, feed on roots, undergo their metamorphosis, and do not come out till they are perfect insects. In May and June when the insects swarm upon the trees, they are collected in the morning at sun - rise, when they are torpid from the cold of the night, and easily let go their hold. Persons with their faces protected by masks and their hand with gloves, shake the trees or beat them with poles; and the insects are received as they fall, upon linen clothes spread underneath. They are then exposed in sieves to the vapour of boiling vinegar, and having been thus deprived of life, are dried either in the sun or in apartments heated by stoves. The larger flies are much better for medical use than the smaller ones.
Habitat: It is a spanish fly and is found in middle and south of Europe, South Western Asia. It feeds on ash and other trees.
Source, History, and Description.—There are a number of insects inhabiting various sections of the world which possess acrid properties, and which, when applied to the skin, produce vesication; the most common in use are those under present consideration, Spanish flies, or cantharides, the Cantharis vesicatoria of Latrielle, Meloë vesicatorius of Linnaeus, or Lytta vesicatoria and Cantharis officinalis of other naturalists. At what period they were introduced into the practice of medicine is a matter of uncertainty. The beetle, called Spanish fly, is a native of Europe, where it is collected principally in south Russia and Hungary; also in Italy and Spain. It is imported into this country from Messina and St. Petersburg. Those from Russia are the best, and may be known by being larger than the French or English varieties and more copper-colored.
General Characters.—Antennae elongate, simple, filiform; maxillary palpi with terminal joint somewhat ovate; head large, heart-shaped; thorax small, rather quadrate, narrower than the elytra, which are as long as the abdomen, soft, linear, the apex slightly gaping; wings 2, ample (J. F. Stephens). Cantharis vesicatoria, De Geer, the Spanish fly, is of an elongated, almost cylindrical form, from 6 to 11 lines in length, and 1 or 2 lines in breadth. This insect may be distinguished from other analogous ones, by presenting 2 shining-green wing covers, which cover 2 membranous wings, ample, thin, veined, transparent, pale-brown; black, jointed antennae, and a longitudinal furrow along the head and chest. Their smell is strong, virose, very disagreeable, and compared to that of mice; their taste is acrid, burning, and urinous (Ed.). It is of a grass or copper-green color, with numerous whitish-gray hairs on its body and thorax. The head is large, sub-cordate, the eyes lateral and dark-brown; the thorax not larger than the head and narrowed at the base; the elytra or wing-covers are from 4 to 6 lines long, and from 3/4 to 1 1/2 line broad; the costa are slightly margined; the wings 2, with tips folded; the legs are stout, from 4 to 6 lines long, the hinder ones longest. The abdomen is soft, and broadest in the female. In the female, near the anus, are 2 articulated caudal appendages (P.). The U. S. P. thus describes cantharis: "About 25 Mm. (1 inch) long and 6 Mm. (1/4 inch) broad; flattish-cylindrical, with filiform antennae, black in the upper part, and with long wing cases and ample, membranous, transparent, brownish wings; elsewhere of a shining, coppery-green color. The powder is grayish-brown, and contains green, shining particles. Odor strong and disagreeable; taste slight, afterwards acrid. Cantharides should be thoroughly dried at a temperature not exceeding 40° C. (104° F.), and kept in well-closed vessels."
The Spanish fly inhabits the earth in the form of a larva, and comes forth in the state of a fly in the month of May. It infests various trees, as the elder, rose, plum, willow, poplar, and elm, but more especially the privet, lilac, ash, and honeysuckle. They are caught during the month of May, either early in the morning or late at night, when the cold renders them less active; to undertake their removal in the daytime would be a serious measure. Those who gather them cover their faces and guard their hands with gloves, then shake them from the bushes over sheets, and kill them immediately by immersion in vinegar, or by exposure to the vapor of vinegar, spirit, or oil of turpentine. Hager recommends the use of carbon disulphide for this purpose; 7 Cm. to each liter of cantharides in bulk. Thus they are left in a closed vessel for one day. They are then quickly dried in the sun, or with artificial heat which, as stated above, should never rise above 40° C. (104° F.). They are best dried by placing them over caustic lime at a temperature of from 25° to 30° C. (77° to 96° F.).
In the dried state the flies may be known by the preceding descriptions as to color, form, odor, and taste; they are easily reduced to a dirty, grayish-brown powder, dotted with numerous brilliant green points. These points consist of the elytra, head, etc., and do not readily decompose, even when mixed with decaying animal matters. Orfila has recognized. these particles in a body nine months after interment. The vesicating property of the flies may be preserved for many years, if they are kept from moisture in well-stoppered bottles, powdering them only as required. If purchased in powder they may have lost their activity, or suffered from adulteration with euphorbium, capsicum, or with some other insects. To preserve them from insects, various means have been advised, as the introduction of a few lumps of camphor into the vessel containing them, or the addition of carbonate of ammonium, or a few drops of strong acetic acid. Chloroform vapor is said to excel them all. Exposing them for 1/2 hour in glass bottles, to the heat of boiling water, destroys the insects and eggs, without impairing the virtues of the flies; of course they must not be allowed to come in contact with the water. The properties of the fly are much diminished by the insects which feed upon them.