Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Leatherwings in Love

Mating leatherwings - Click to enlarge  

In the fall, a young beetle's fancy turn to thoughts of....... making more beetles.

PL - click to enlarge
We are seeing these soldier beetles on flowers in Barb's backyard.  These are Pennsylvania Leatherwings (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus), aka Goldenrod Soldier Beetles we will call PL.  They are members of the Cantharidae family of soldier beetles.  The "soldier" label comes from the coloration of this family which reminds some of uniform decorations.  The "leatherwing" refers to their front pair of wings (elytra) which are hard in most beetles but flexible and leathery in PL.

Many of them are linked as mating pairs, the female intent on eating and the male on.....well you know what I mean.  They seem to mate non-stop and at times, finding a single is unusual.  "Size matters" as males in a breeding pair are usually larger than single males nearby.

They resemble fireflies without the electronic gear, and some sources suggest that this coloration protects them from predators familiar with the toxic secretions that fireflies produce.  They also manufacture their own brand of defensive chemical which they can release from their abdomen.

They are found in large numbers on flowers that bloom from August through October.  They seem to mate non-stop and at times, finding a single PL is an exception.  While feeding on pollen and nectar, they are also opportunistic omnivores, snacking on small insects  and caterpillars for variety.  They do not damage plants and eat some less desirable insects like aphids.  

Michael Raupp

"Adult females lay their eggs in clusters in the soil. The dark-colored, long, slender, worm-like larvae are covered with tiny dense bristles, giving a velvety appearance. They spend their time in the soil, where they are are predators of other insects, eating grasshopper eggs, small caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects."  Wisconsin Horticulture

Bug of the Week has this interesting story of a zombie fungus attacking our leatherwings. 

"A fungal pathogen called Entomophthora lampyridarum lurks in the landscape waiting to infect soldier beetles when conditions are right. After penetrating the surface of the hapless beetle, the fungus takes control of its host and zombie-fies it. 

The fungus causes beetles to march to the upper leaves of the plant, clamp onto leaves with their jaws, and spread their wings in the final act of death. This allows fruiting bodies to erupt from the upper surface of the beetle and spew their spores into the environment where they disperse and infect other victims. While we lament the loss of beneficial soldier beetles to their disease, in the greater scheme of things Entomophthora fungi are highly beneficial causing epizootics that can decimate nasty pests like gypsy moths, house flies, and locusts. Some entomologists believe that fungi are the primary regulatory agents of insect outbreaks worldwide. Glad they infect bugs and not us. "

Bug of the Week also has this video of mating leatherwings while the female is hard at work, supporting the male, something that my wife can relate to.

 More on soldier beetles in general at this University of Kentucky site.