The Red Coats are coming. The Red Coats are coming.
No, not an army of soldiers. Soldier beetles.
These insects (family Cantharida) resemble the uniforms of the British soldiers of the American Revolution, which is apparently how their name originated. They're also called "leatherwings" in reference to their leatherylike wing covers.
Soldier beetles are beneficial insects; they're the good guys and gals in the garden. The adults eat scores of aphids. In addition, they are pollinators. So, don't even think of killing soldier beetles. Enlist them in your garden to feast on aphids.
"The adults are long and narrow," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM), which labels them as natural enemies of garden pests. "Common species are often about 1/2 inch (13 mm) long with a red, orange or yellow head and abdomen and black, gray or brown soft wing covers. Adults are often observed feeding on aphids or on pollen or nectar on flowering shrubs and trees. Metamorphosis is complete. Larvae are dark, elongate, and flattened. They feed under bark or in soil or litter, primarily on eggs and larvae of beetles, butterflies, moths, and other insects. There are over 100 species of soldier beetles in California."
If you want to know identify some of the natural enemies of garden pests, you can download UC IPM's educational poster, "Meet the Beneficials: Natural Enemies of Gardens" here.
The poster illustrates some of the beneficial insects, mites and spiders that prey on garden pests:
- Convergent lady beetle
(adult, larva, eggs)
- Green lacewing
(adult, larva, eggs)
- Predaceous ground beetle
- Assassin bug
- Pirate bug
- Damsel bug
- Soldier beetle
- Syrphid fly
- Sixspotted thrips
- Western predatory mites
- Predatory wasps
- Praying mantids
- Examples of parasites (including a typical life cycle)
These soldier beetles may even know how to pull rank.
Honey bees have nothing on the late Helen Reddy (Oct. 25, 1941-Sept. 29, 2020), an Australian-born singer who roared like a lion: "I am woman, hear me roar."
Her hit song, "I Am Woman," released in 1972, became an anthem for the women's liberation/equal rights movement back in the '70s.
"I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman"
Worker honey bees basically do all the work in the colony, and they're out there foraging on everything they can find--when the weather cooperates. Lately we've been watching collecting pollen and nectar on lion's tail, Leonotis leonurus and thinking about UC Davis emeritus professor Norman Gary's book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstate," he writes in his entry on pollen foraging. "Bees need a balanced diet. Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrate requirements, while all of the other nutrients--minerals, proteins, vitamins and fatty substances--are derived from pollen."
Gary, known internationally as "The Bee Man" for his career as a hobby beekeeper, commercial beekeeper, deputy apiary inspector in New York, honey bee research scientist, entomology professor, author, bee wrangler and Guinness World record holder (he holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) served on the UC Davis entomology faculty from 1962 to 1994 after a 32-year academic career. He has kept bees for some seven decades and has authored more than 100 publications, including scientific papers, book chapters and popular articles in beekeeping trade journals. He drew widespread acclaim for wearing a head-to-toe suit of clustered bees while "Buzzin' with His Bee-Flat Clarinet."
But back to the girls on the lion's tail. They are determined, these girls. Helen Reddy packed a punch, but honey bees know how to pack a wallop of pollen on lion's tail.
"I am honey bee; hear me roar."
The lady beetle, aka ladybug, scurried up the lion's tail plant, Leonotis leonurus.
Up one stem and down another, she went. Apparently, she didn't find what she was looking for--aphids or other small bodied-insects--and took flight.
If you haven't planted this in your pollinator garden, you should. A native of South Africa, it is cherished for its dazzling orange spiked blossoms, reminiscent of a lion's tail. The plant is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, which means it has square stems.
Other attributes include: drought resistant, deer resistant, and basically disease-free and pest-free. It attract birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. And our little buddies, the lady beetles. You can never get enough of them!
Note also that the lion's tail is known for its medicinal properties. "The main psychoactive component of Leonotis leonurus is claimed to be leonurine, even though leonurine has never been found in the plant using chemical analysis," according to Wikipedia. "Like other plants in the mint family, it also contains marrubiin. The name 'wild dagga' links it closely to cannabis as 'dagga' derived from the Khoikhoi 'dachab' is an indigenous South African name for cannabis species. This name may be a misnomer, as no part of the plant is used as a hallucinogen."
Wikipedia adds: "The infusions made from flowers and seeds, leaves or stems are widely used to treat tuberculosis, jaundice, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, diabetes, viral hepatitis, dysentery, and diarrhea. The leaves, roots and bark are used as an emetic for snakebites, bee and scorpion stings. The fresh stem juice is used as an infusion drunk for 'blood impurity' in some places of South Africa."
We just like the calming effect it has in the pollinator garden.