There is something new that has been causing panic around Bali these days. (And it surprisingly has nothing to do with terrorists being executed on the island or anything of the sort.)
The Tomcat as it is known in Indonesia (Rove Beetle in English) has been making a guest appearance throughout the archipelago in limited numbers over the past month. While resembling most other insects that you might not bat an eye at, the Tomcat possesses some unique characteristics that you should be watching out for.
What a Tomcat is and what separates it from other insects
The Tomcat is a small insect that looks almost like a long ant. It is usually black and brown in color on the body. The Tomcat has been historically linked to ancient plagues. (Although no one is really expecting to see any disasters like that happening ever again.)
Climate change usually brings them around and their recent sightings across Java, as well as isolated cases in Bali and Lombok, are expected to stop once the dry season is in full swing.
The thing that makes people get all antsy whenever they hear the Tomcat is around, is the toxin that they carry. It contains pederin – an irritant that is reported to be much more potent than that of Cobra venom.
Don’t worry though, unless you managed to get it into your bloodstream like a Cobra’s fangs could do, the worst people usually get from the Tomcat is mild to severe rashes or skin irritation, sometimes resulting in puss-filled wounds.
How the toxin actually works
The Tomcat releases the toxin on anything it touches, especially human skin.
Direct contact is not needed to experience skin discomfort or irritation however. That is because the toxin can be left behind on your towels, furniture or other things in your house.
Secondhand contact might not cause the same level of irritation as direct contact, but it is still wise to be precautious especially if you have seen them hanging around your house as of late.
Preventing contact and irritation if you do come in contact with one
This first rule of the Tomcat is much different than almost any other insect out there. DON’T SQUASH IT!
No matter how much you hate creepy crawly insects, try to resist the urge to smash it and grind it, like the Ibu at the warung using a mortar and pestle to make sambal. You might end up with less irritation rubbing that sambal directly on your skin. Even crushing the insect with shoes or sandals on is not a great idea. Why not? Because you could spread the toxin into the air, and it will definitely be left behind on your shoe.
Your best bet is to keep some insect repellent around your house and if you come into contact with one, spray it until it isn’t moving anymore. Then you can pick it with some tools, keeping the insect far away from your skin. Disposing of it in the toilet is your best bet, just like you would with a tick. After that, thoroughly wash your hands and other places or materials that came in contact with the Tomcat.
Treating yourself if you do come in contact with the Tomcat
Most normal remedies for skin irritation are pretty ineffective for treating irritation from the Tomcat’s toxin and some can even make it worse.
Your best bet is either hydrocortisone (1%), betamethasone and neomycin sulfate antibiotic or acyclovir 5%. All of these have been found to be effective in the treatment of skin irritation caused by the insect’s toxin.
Don’t be too alarmed – just take general precautions
Chances are that you will never even run into one while you are here in Bali. There have only been a few reported sightings so far in Bali, but it is important that you know not to treat them like any normal insect. Walking around barefoot outdoors may not be a good idea for a bit as you run the risk of stepping on one.
Tomcats are good for farmers though as they eat other insects that can be harmful to crops. Just like the poisonous snakes that kill other rodents and vermin, every creature has its place in the world.