Written by: Shelby Paxton
If you’re from Southern Ontario, then the sight of the common red soldier beetle should be all too familiar. During the mid-summer, hundreds of these beetles emerge, decorating our lawns and woodlots with their brightly coloured elytra. But just as suddenly as these beetles emerged, they vanish, only to be seen again next summer. So what’s the story of these mysterious bugs?
Their name, “soldier beetle”, is derived from their brightly coloured which resembles old British soldier’s uniform . Unlike other beetles like June bugs and Japanese beetles, soldier beetles have soft leathery wings which is where they get their alternate name of “leather-wings” . Their elongate bodies, bright colours, and leathery wings also cause them to be commonly mistaken for fireflies and blister beetles [1, 2].
Soldier beetles are short-lived as adults which is why you will often see them in mating pairs, they’re making the most out of what little time they got . Despite this, females are picky about which mate they choose and will always select the largest male in a group . They are attracted to certain flowers, many prefer umbellifer flowers like Queen’s Anne Lace as well as yellow and orange flowers like goldenrods [5, 6].
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for soldier beetles, a fungal parasite known as Entomophthora lampyridarum, is capable of taking over the mind of the goldenrod soldier beetle . This fungus will force it to climb to the top of a plant, open its wings, revealing the fruiting bodies of the fungi in its abdomen, and release spores on all the unsuspecting beetles below .
These beetles are beneficial to have around, as adults, they feed on many agricultural pests like aphids and caterpillars while the juveniles attack snails and slugs . All stages of soldier beetles do not attack garden plants. In fact, they can help with pollination since adults can collect pollen on them when they feed on nectar from flowers .