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.
The fair opened Friday, July 13 and continues through Sunday, July 29.
You'll see beneficial insects, such as honey bees and lady beetles (aka lady bugs) and pests that ravage our crops.
"Danger lurks in a backyard garden," a sign informs visitors. "Aphids, cutworms, mealybugs and other pests are preying on your vegetables and flowers. Who's a gardener to turn to for help? Bring in the reinforcements and enlist the aid of Beneficial Bugs that will crusade against the Invasive Species and help keep your pest outbreaks under control. Native plants naturally attract these Beneficial Bugs, equipping your garden with its own pest managers. Low costs and low water--It's a win/win!"
Madagascar hissing cockroaches from the Bohart draw "oohs" and "yecchs." Visitors learn that "these cockroaches inhabit Madagascar, a large island off southeastern Africa. They speed up plant decomposition in their native environment, providing an important ecological service. When provoked, Madagascar hissing cockroaches hiss through their spiracles, the tiny tubes through which insects breathe. Spiracles are visible on adults as tiny black dots on the edges of their bodies."
Another sign meant to engage visitors reads: "If you were a bug, which would you be?" You'll see images of everything from a butterfly to a dragonfly, from a honey bee and lady bug, and from an assassin bug to a praying mantis, not to mention a grasshopper, cockroach, ant, and spider.
- One teenage girl poked her head through the Bug Barn door, glanced at the displays, and dashed off, proclaiming "Bugs give me the creeps!"
- A middle-aged woman declared to all present: "I hate, hate bugs!"
- A preschooler pointed to the butterflies. "Pretty, Mommy, pretty!"
- A toddler left the Bug Barn waving at the honey bees. "Bye, bye, bees!" he said.
The good, the bad and the bugly.
Want to see more insects? The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis, is hosting two summer weekend programs, one in August and one in September. hey're free, family friendly and open to the public:
- "Fire and Ice: Extreme California Insects" from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 19
- "Crafty Insects" from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22.
"For the Aug. 19 open house, we will be exploring extreme insects from the deserts and the mountains of California," said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. "For Sept. 22 we will be having a two-way museum. We will be displaying crafty--think cunning--insects and we are going to ask people to bring insect crafts that they have made, so all those felted, knitted, carved, and sculpted crafts are welcome. Any and all hand-made, flea-shaped tea cozies are welcomed!"
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses some eight million insect specimens, plus a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids) and a year-around gift shop.
They're good soldiers, those soldier beetles.
Members of the family Cantharidae, they are beneficial insects that eat other insects, especially aphids and caterpillars--but just about any soft-bodied insect will do. If no insects are available, you'll see them dining on nectar and pollen.
We saw these soldier beetles, with their long, narrow reddish-orange bodies and brownish-gray wing covers, on our rose bushes this morning.
As aphids scooted up and down the steps and leaves, so did the soldier beetles. Three formed a "troop" in a three-gun salute.
California is fortunate to have more than 100 species of these "soldiers of fortune." They're also called leather-winged beetles or leatherwings. Check out their long, threadlike antennae.
If you see soldier beetles in your garden, savor them. They're the good guys.
Please pass the aphids.