|Mating Leatherwings- Click to enlarge|
We are seeing swarms of Soldier Beetles that we described in a past blog. Pennsylvania Leatherwing (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) would normally feed on the nectar of Goldenrod and Thoroughwart (Eupatorium) that bloom from August through October. These members of the daisy family have been struggling with the heat and drought.
The leatherwings are now swarming on the nearest relative, the White Crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) that grows wild along our driveway and the undisturbed field edges. Since we had a second hay cutting last week, they are crowded on this only available food source, with 8-10 beetles on a flower cluster. Walking through these edges put us at risk of insect inhalation.
White Crownbeard proliferates on the untended edges. Its winged stalks grow up to 7 feet tall, dwarfing the modest flower heads which resemble Queen Anne's Lace. However, it produces our favorite flower in the first hard frosts of winter. Thin ribbons of ice are extruded from the dried Frostweed stems, producing a wide variety of "frost flower" shapes in a season otherwise devoid of blossoms.
Speaking of proliferation, you will notice that most of the beetles are actively mating with three pair or more on each flower head. They are excellent pollinators, crawling over the small florets before moving on to the next one. This helps insure another crop of frost flowers and ice ribbons this winter. As long as they are pollinating the future frost flowers, I don't mind having them fly in my face for a few weeks.