Blister Beetle Blamed for Death of Wisconsin Horses

11:37AM Jan 15, 2020
Horses sickened by beetles in hay
( AgDay )

Hay tainted by a toxic beetle is blamed for the deaths of at least 13 horses and illnesses to dozens of others on a Wisconsin ranch.

Officials say summer flooding left the hay from the fields at Red Ridge Ranch Riding Stable in Mauston, Wisc., unstable. AgDay reports the owners bought hay and alfalfa from farms in South Dakota and Wyoming.

However, the owners say they later found out the hay was contaminated with blister beetles which can damage to a horse's stomach and intestines. Blister beetles releases a toxin when crushed during harvest. This toxin is not only blamed for these horses' deaths, but also for sickening another 100 horses on the ranch. 

Blister beetles comprise an entire family of beetles that can be found worldwide, including nearly 30 species in Wisconsin that aren’t typically on hay and alfalfa during harvest, University of Wisconsin-Madison Insect Diagnostic Lab director PJ Liesch said in an email to the Wisconsin State Journal.

“In the grand scheme of things, blister beetles are not uncommon in Wisconsin. However, they are rarely an issue in hay,” Liesch told the Wisconsin State Journal. “In my nearly six years as director of the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab, the recent incident in the state is the only time I’ve encountered an issue with horses and blister beetles. Having multiple horses die is an unusual occurrence.”

The owners are trying to bring awareness to other ranchers about blister beetles and have launched a Go Fund Me campaign with a goal of $50,000 to help cover the veterinarian bills and additional hay costs. 

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