Thursday, August 12, 2010

Goldenrod Soldier Beetles

Looking for a breeze and cooler temperatures, I hopped in the Prius and took a spin through the coulees east of the Lower Chippewa River.

Great Lobelia

I didn't find respite from the heat, but I did spot Great Lobelia, several species of goldenrod and a new (for me) insect on the flower of a Cup Plant Silphium perfoliatum, a very tall (6-8 ft), plant that looks like a sunflower, named for the water-catching cup created at the stems where the perfoliate leaves meet.  Look for American Goldfinches getting a drink of water from these cups.

Cup Plant flower
Cup Plant "cup"

I could identify the flower from a distance, but not the insects.

At first glance the copulating insects looked like fireflies.  When I got close enough to take a photo, I didn't see the luminous abdomens of lightning bugs.  I'd need a good photo and some time with the Peterson Field Guide to the Insects.

When I got home, I went to the insect guide and looked up lightning bugs.  My mystery insect was right there - on the same page, one beetle to the right:  a Goldenrod Soldier Beetle, Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus.

While I've never noticed them before, according to Extension entomologists they're common this time of year.

There are more than 1,000 species of Soldier Beetles world-wide, less than 200 in the US.  Also known as Pennsylvania Leatherwings, their soft wings are leather-like.  The name "soldiers" comes from their color patterns which resemble a military uniform.  Look for them on goldenrod flowers.

The adults are omnivorous, they feed on pollen, nectar, grasshopper eggs, maggots, small caterpillars and aphids. 

They overwinter as larvae.  Like Box Elder Bugs, they can be a nuisance when they end up in your basement looking for a place to over-winter.

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