Soldier beetles rank right up there with lady beetles and lacewings in the world of beneficial insects.
Soldier beetles are predators that love to eat aphids. For that, alone, they are loved by gardeners. They also help pollinate crops as they feed on pollen and nectar. Soldier beetle larvae love to eat the eggs and larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, armyworms, and other insect pests.
Soldier beetle identification
Unlike many hard-shelled beetles, soldier beetles have softer, more leathery bodies. In fact, some people call them leatherwings. There are many different species of soldier beetles (Cantharidae), but they all have rather long, narrow, rectangular bodies that are approximately 1/2 inch long. They commonly have a red, orange, or yellow head, back and abdomen, with dark grey or brown wing covers. You will see a large dark spot on the wings, when open. The larva are long, flat, and dark colored. Larva are often found under bark and in leaf litter.
California is home to more than 100 different species of soldier beetle. There is another bug with an almost identical name, spined soldier bug (Good Guy), but they look more like brown marmorated stinkbugs (Bad Guys). If you look closely in the garden, you will see these soldier beetle lookalikes:
Encourage soldier beetles in your garden by:
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!