Poisonous beetles blamed for horses' deaths
Oct. 30, 2007 03:36 PM
SIERRA VISTA - A poisonous beetle is to blame for the deaths of two horses in southern Arizona.
Annette Gerhardt noticed that two of her horses were acting lethargic, uninterested in their food and appeared uncomfortable.
She said she thought the horses had colic, so she gave them banamine injections and watched them carefully. When the horses got worse, she took them to a veterinarian in Benson to get more aggressive treatment.
But it was too late.
Gerhardt's horses, a filly named Sedona and a mare named Mandy, died of blister beetle poisoning despite intravenous fluids and vigilant monitoring. Sedona died Friday and Mandy died Sunday.
The poisonous blister beetle is attracted to the blooms of flowering alfalfa plants, meaning hay is especially vulnerable to contamination.
Gerhardt later found more than 30 dead beetles in one flake of hay that she had used to feed her horses before they became ill.
"It doesn't take very many beetles to make a horse sick, and since the beetles swarm, they could be in one small area of the hay, while the rest of the hay is fine," said Nancy Leveranz, the veterinarian who treated the horses.
The toxin present in the blister beetles, cantharidin, is extremely stable and remains toxic even in dead, dried-up beetles. It's therefore possible for animals to be poisoned by ingesting dead beetles, or even parts of beetles, in hay that has been cut and baled much earlier in the year.
"These were beautiful, sweet animals that just didn't stand a chance against this horrible insect," Gerhardt said.