Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Soldier Beetles on Flowers

The margined leatherback, Chauliognathus marginatus (Order: Coleoptera;  Family: Cantharidae) is one of two soldier beetles (the other is C. pensylvanicum) commonly seen feeding on nectar and pollen on garden flowers in the late summer and early fall.  Sometimes they can be quite numerous and cause concern for gardeners.  However, they do not damage plants and can be considered beneficial.  The adult of this beetle may be predatory on small insects such as aphids, while the larvae feed on a variety of insect adults, larvae and eggs.  Occasionally, the larvae can be found inside of damaged produce such as tomatoes that have split from rainfall, or been opened up by caterpillars.
Adult margined soldier beetles have somewhat flattened bodies and soft, leathery wing covers rather than the hard covers found in many beetles.  They can appear clumsy as they 'stumble' around flower heads on their long legs looking for both food and mates.  Margined soldier beetle larvae look velvety and soft, and their legs are small and hard to see.  This can make them appear similar to caterpillars.  However, if you watch them carefully they have no legs near their rear end and move by walking  their bodies along using the small legs.  Caterpillars, on the other hand, use either an "inchworm" or slinky type movement to lift up and bring their back legs closer to the front ones.