This article is part of our Organic Pest Control Series, which includes articles on attracting beneficial insects, controlling specific garden pests, and using organic pesticides.
Elongated, half-inch-long soldier beetles are often called leatherwing beetles because of the soft texture of their wing covers. They are closely related to lightning bugs (fireflies), and may be black or yellow, or orange with black markings. Slow to take flight, soldier beetles are often seen among flowers or in thick vegetation.
Soldier beetles overwinter as pupae in the soil, and females mate but once in early summer. Eggs are laid in soil, where larvae feed for up to a year on the eggs and larvae of other insects. In some areas soldier beetle larvae are important predators of grasshopper eggs, so attracting solider beetles may be helpful in providing grasshopper control.
Often seen beneath mulch or near compost piles, soldier beetle larvae are plump, black segmented caterpillars with orange heads and fake horns.
Soldier beetle larvae feed on the eggs and larvae of beetles, grasshoppers, moths and other insects. Adults feed on aphids and other soft-bodied insects, but mainly on flower nectar and pollen. In some instances soldier beetles may appear to swarm linden trees in full bloom, where they can feed on a mixed diet of pollen, nectar and small insects.
Soldier beetles often are numerous around herbs in bloom, and they are easily attracted by single-flowered marigolds and members of the daisy family. Goldenrods are soldier beetle magnets, as are many native shrubs and trees.
More soldier beetle facts are available from the University of Kentucky, Iowa State University, and BugGuide.net.
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