Be Careful Of These Flying Black & Red 'Ants' In Hot Weather. They're Poisonous

These beetles are most commonly found in Penang, Kedah, and Perlis!

Cover image via Eamon Corbett/Flickr & Enver Turan/ResearchGate

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A woman in Penang has taken to social media to warn people of an insect that is poisonous to humans, and only comes out in large numbers during hot weather

Facebook user Jamie Chin warned her followers about the existence of Charlie ants and encouraged people to learn what they look like to avoid them.

"The weather is really hot lately, that's the peak of when Charlie ants come out," she warned in a post that has since garnered over 8,500 shares.

"Everyone should remind their children that if they see these ants, absolutely DO NOT squash them with their bare hands!"

She asked people not to underestimate the damage they can do to a person's skin, and that these 'ants' often lurk in places such as showers, sinks, clothes, and curtains.

Given the alarming warning, here is what else we learned about the bugs:

We found out that 'Charlie ants' are actually not ants — they are a species of beetle in the Paederus genus

These beetles go by the name 'Charlie ant' in Malaysia due to their similar appearance to ants when they are crawling on the ground.

However, the name is a misnomer for they are actually known worldwide as rove beetles.

Rove beetles are six-legged creatures ranging from 1cm to 3.5cm long and have distinctive orange bodies with a black head, abdomen, and tip.

Bad news: These beetles have wings and can fly. Their wings are hidden beneath the black part of their abdomens and they often look like wasps when they are in the air.

Although rove beetles can be found around the world, massive outbreaks are more frequently reported in tropical regions of Asia

According to researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), rove beetles can be found in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, and throughout Southeast Asia.

This is because these beetles thrive in moist habitats such as crop fields, riverbanks, drains, pools, and lakes.

They are commonly found in the northern states of Penang, Kedah, and Perlis in Malaysia, especially around paddy fields.

These beetles become pests to humans when they suddenly breed in large quantities in warm and humid weather

USM researchers found that rove beetles are actually beneficial in agriculture because they eat other insects and pests in paddy fields.

However, with hot weather and human activities that disrupt their natural habitat such as harvesting and ploughing of rice fields, rove beetles reproduce and leave in massive infestations to nearby residential areas.

These flying beetles are attracted to fluorescent lights so they will often invade brightly-lit buildings.

Sticky traps placed under fluorescent lights in public areas can capture thousands of rove beetles during outbreaks.

Image via ResearchGate

However, most surprising of all, these rove beetles do not bite or sting.

Instead, they are dangerous only when humans try to crush them, causing them to release of a toxin called paederin.

The toxin found in the fluid of their bodies burns the skin and causes dermatitis linearis – a painful rash that is red and itchy and may develop into blisters if not taken care of properly.

The lesions appear 24 to 48 hours after contact with the toxin and can take several weeks to heal.

The rashes normally appear elongated because a person's first instinct when killing an insect is to squash and smear it across the skin.

The painful lesions are also often described as mirror images by doctors, a tell-tale sign that a beetle was squashed between two surfaces of skin such as between the elbows.

Many times, victims also accidentally touch their eyes with the toxic fluid still on their hands and develop conjunctivitis.

Image via ResearchGate

So, using what we have learned about rove beetles so far, we now know what to do in case of an outbreak

As also mentioned by this pest control guide:

- Switch off or minimise lighting indoors and vigilantly close all doors and windows at night when there's an infestation.

- Use mosquito netting, aerosol insect spray, or glue traps to catch and kill the bugs.

- If a rove beetle lands on your body, do not squash it. Blow it away then kill it with a spray.

- If the rove beetle is crushed on your skin, wash the affected area immediately with soap and water. Do not touch your eyes!

- Seek medical attention immediately if you suffer a severe skin reaction after an encounter with the insect.

These Malaysians found effective products to get rid of pests in their homes:

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