In this article, we take a look at the dangerous-sounding “soldier beetles.”
Soldier beetles are known for their body colors, which look a little similar to that of a British soldier’s red uniform.
Unlike most other insects, their elytra (hind wings) are soft, and they feed on both nectar and pollen.
Apart from this, there are a lot of fascinating things about these beetles, including feeding habits, mating rights, activity, and more that will surely intrigue you.
Let us take a closer look at these tiny creatures in this article.
What Are Soldier Beetles?
Soldier beetles are common insects found in almost every corner of the world. They are placed under the species Cantharidae, which has about 3500 members.
Beetles of this genus have historically been placed within the superfamily “Cantharoidea.” This has now been absorbed under the Elateroidea superfamily.
These beetles have rectangular elongated bodies and can grow up to 1/2 inch.
The red soldier beetles got their name from the color combinations and markings of red and black on their bodies that look like the British red army’s uniform.
Their wing covers have a smooth velvety appearance.
When it comes to appearance, soldier beetles share many similarities with lightning bugs, but these beetles can’t produce light like the latter.
Adult soldier beetles feed on soft-bodied insects and aphids. Some of their species (such as the goldenrod soldier beetle) are often seen mating and feeding on flowers like goldenrods.
Soldier Beetle Types
There are many different species of soldier beetles found in various corners of the world. Let us take a look at a few of them here.
Common Red Soldier Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva)
These beetles are known for their bright-red bodies. People also call them bloodsucker beetles due to their striking color.
Because of this unfortunate name, they are considered dangerous, but in reality, they are quite harmless.
These beetles have elongated bodies and can grow up to 1/2 inch in length. You can spot long antennae on the bodies and a black spot on the wing covers.
Like most soldier beetles, they like to be around flowers and are considered excellent pollinators.
The larvae are great at finding and consuming insect eggs. You can spot them near flowers like daisies and hogweed from June to August.
Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus)
Goldenrod soldier beetles get their name because they love to gather around the yellow goldenrod flowers.
There is a significant population of these beetles in the Midwestern region of North America.
Apart from goldenrod flowers, you can also see them flying and mating around milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, and other summer-blooming plants.
These beetles have an orange body with two distinct black spots near the end of the wings.
Goldenrod soldier beetles are medium-sized insects and show an average growth of around 0.62 inches.
Plague soldier beetles (Chauliognathus lugubris)
These beetles get the name since they appear in huge masses during spring, summer, and autumn.
Plague soldier beetles are found in Australia, especially in southwestern and south-eastern Australia.
These insects are omnivorous, and they are good at hunting down aphids and other problem-causing pests.
But fascinatingly, people don’t want them around as they cause massive damage to blooming trees, vegetables, fruits, and other garden plants by infesting them.
They have black wing covers and a unique yellow spot in the middle.
Texas soldier beetle (Chauliognathus scutellaris)
Texas soldier beetles have yellowish-orange bodies with black spots on the midsection and the wing covers.
These species of soldier beetles are common in Central America and North America.
An average healthy Texas soldier beetle can grow up to 0.5 inches in length.
Similar to Goldenrod soldier beetles, you can find them around yellow flowers in particular.
Red and Black Soldier Beetle (Cantharis Pellucida)
These beetles are native to various European regions and are most common in Britain. They have a black-colored elytra and an orange-red pronotum.
If you look closely, you will notice thin bands on top of the hind femora.
These beetles can grow up to 0.5 inches and are mostly found in hedgerows and meadows.
They can be spotted around open flowers like umbellifers.
What Does A Soldier Beetle Eat?
Adult soldier beetles can be seen flying around flower beds and gardens. In this process, they also sip on nectar from the flowers.
Other than that, these adults hunt and consume garden pests like caterpillars, aphids, and other soft-bodied garden pests.
They patiently wait on flowers like goldenrod for the prey to appear. Once they show up, it is an easy kill for the beetles.
The soldier beetle larvae consume insect eggs and other ground-dwelling pests.
Where Do Soldier Beetles Live?
Soldier beetles like to be around open areas like gardens and meadows. They prefer to be around flowers to mate, hunt, and eat.
They are found in many parts of North America, including the midwestern regions of the United States, such as Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North & South Dakota, and more. They are also found in California and Florida.
Kansas and Florida are famous for being great spots to see the goldenrod soldier beetles.
Many soldier beetles are also found in Asia, Africa, Eurasia, Europe, South America, and more.
Life Cycle of A Soldier Beetle
Soldier beetles show complete metamorphosis; They have four life stages: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults.
Adult beetles have a short lifespan and are mostly seen around flower beds and gardens. They prefer to mate around flowers, and as soon as they are done, they die.
After mating, the female soldier beetle search for a safe location to lay the eggs.
They choose the area carefully to keep them safe from lizards, birds, and other amphibians. It takes a week for the larvae to come out.
These larvae have a worm-like appearance with slender bodies.
Their entire body is covered in tiny bristle-like hair, which gives them a velvety and fuzzy appearance. They are mostly gray to dark brown in color.
The soldier beetle larvae are active hunters of caterpillars, grasshopper eggs, and other small aphids.
They spend around one to three years in the topsoil dwelling as larvae and attaining enough nutrients to transform into a pupa.
During the winters, these larvae overwinter to survive the cold. Once they are healthy to start pupating, they find a safe underground chamber.
They pupate in that chamber and emerge as adult soldier beetles in late summer.
After coming out, these adults fly to nearby flowers in search of mates and continue the cycle.
Mating Rituals of Soldier Beetles
Most animals and insects have their own mating rituals. Similarly, soldier beetles also have their unique set of mating rules.
In this section, we will discuss some of them in detail.
September to early October is the peak mating period for soldier beetles. During this window, these beetles mate only once a day.
The mating usually happens near flowers on sunny afternoons.
The mating process includes a lot of tussling and fighting between the males and females. In many cases, males fight amongst each other while finding a female mate.
When the male spots a female, it starts chasing to be able to capture her. They use the forelegs and antennae to be able to grab the female.
The females can evade smaller beetles easily, but it is quite challenging to escape from an enormous male beetle. These females wrestle the male as it tries to mount her.
How Long Do Soldier Beetles Live?
Soldier beetle adults don’t live for long. They spend most of their adult lives flying around flowers, drinking nectar, and mating.
The larvae can live from 1-3 years before transitioning into the pupal stage. As larvae, they hunt down and consume small aphids and insects eggs to fulfill their diets.
Do They Bite?
Soldier beetles are gentle and timid insects. They are rarely aggressive toward humans. When they encounter a human, they often lie still to play dead instead of biting or stinging.
They do not have stingers and mouthparts that are capable of penetrating the human skin.
Are They Poisonous/Venomous?
No, soldier beetles are not poisonous and are entirely harmless to humans and pets.
The only concern is the foul-smelling liquid that they emit when they sense danger. This liquid stinks, and getting it sprayed on you is a terrible idea.
Are They Harmful or Beneficial to Humans?
We already mentioned why you should not be scared of these beetles.
Adding to that, they cause no damage to human property like garden plants, furniture, wood, and more.
Soldier beetles are beneficial insects. These little ones are excellent pollinators and are a nightmare for garden pests like aphids.
Having them in your garden is a great way to deal with pests naturally.
What Are Soldier Beetles Attracted To?
Soldier beetles are attracted to flower beds and gardens. Yellow flowers like goldenrod are one of their favorites.
These flower beds are ideal to mate and to find food. If you want to attract these beetles, add a few bright yellow flowering plants to the yard.
How To Get Rid of Soldier Beetles?
Soldier beetles do not cause any damage to plants and household materials.
They are harmless to humans, and there is no need to take drastic measures to eliminate them. You can use a few natural ways to get rid of these beetles if they bother you too much.
During winter days, these beetles seek warm spots to survive the cold. This is why you must keep the cracks and other openings sealed to keep them away from your house.
Having predators like lizards and birds are super effective in eliminating the existing beetles. Sprinkling little birds feed on your garden regularly to attract predators.
A regular visit from visits from lizards and birds will also prevent the beetles from coming back.
Create a mixture of neem oil and water. Store this solution in a spraying bottle and sprinkle it on plants where these beetles are present. It will repel the soldier beetles.
Interesting Facts About Soldier Beetles
Apart from the information above, there are some other fascinating facts about these beetles that we will mention in the space below.
- Adult soldier beetles are predominately active from late July to September.
- These beetles might look like bees and wasps as they swiftly fly across flowers.
- The body color of various soldier beetles sends a signal to various predators that they are not good to taste. This keeps them safe from predatory threats.
- During spring, the adults are highly active in areas with loose soil, leaf litter, plant debris, and other spots with high humidity.
- At first glance, the soldier beetle larvae can look like mini alligators.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are soldier beetles harmful?
No soldier beetles are not harmful. They are gentle creatures and not aggressive towards humans and pets.
The only concern is they emit a liquid that makes them appear unappealing to predators.
The fluid is foul-smelling, and you do not want to get it sprayed on you. Also, they do not bite or sting.
What is the most toxic beetle?
The blister beetle is one of the most toxic beetles on earth. Under no circumstance should one try to approach them and attack them.
These beetle releases a chemical fluid called cantharidin. This fluid can easily cause blisters on your body. If you want to touch them, you must wear safety gloves.
What attracts soldier beetles?
Soldier beetles are attracted to gardens and fully blooming flower beds. Yellow flowers like goldenrod are one of their favorites.
They land on these flower beds to find food and mate. They can easily eliminate the garden pests like aphids by hunting and consuming them.
Are soldier beetles toxic to cats?
Soldier beetles are not harmful to cats and other pets like dogs. They won’t bite or sting.
However, they release a foul-smelling fluid that might cause a problem if your cat swallows or chews a soldier beetle.
Therefore, it is better to keep cats away from soldier beetles. Other than that, there is no other problem that these beetles will cause.
Soldier beetles are fascinating creatures and are a great tool for natural pest control in gardens.
They are harmless and do not cause any damage to human property plants.
Just remember, they might secrete a foul-smelling liquid when they feel threatened.
Try to stay away from the liquid, and you will be fine around them. Thank you for taking the time to read this article!
Soldier beetles are quite common around the world, and their striking appearance makes them stand out.
They are also famous for “doing the deed” on flowers when they become adults.
Because their main motive as adults is to mate and produce eggs, they spend a lot of their time doing exactly that.
Please read through some of our reader’s letters detailing these beetles across the globe doing various activities, but mostly, mating!
Letter 1 – Australian Soldier Beetle
Is it a beetle of some sort?
I am an American (not that that is really pertinent!) living in Australia (east coast, halfway between Brisbane and Sydney). I found this bug at the park. I looked through your beetles and couldn’t find it…not really sure it is a beetle. It moves fairly fast and flies and was difficult to photograph. It is fairly small, maybe 1/2 inch. And, love your site! I wanted to be an entomologist, but I can’t even kill an ant, so how was I ever going to dissect creatures I so cherish. Thanks for your help.
We are touched by your compassion. This looks to be one of the Soldier Beetles, in the family Cantharidae.
Letter 2 – Soldier Beetle from Australia
Help me Identify my bug!
Whilst visiting an area of bushland about an hour outside Perth Western Australia i spotted this little fellow climbing back and forth over a large rock and took a number of photos (Im a keen photographer!).I wondered if you could help me identify him? I’ve looked through insect books and various web sites and think he is a member of the Cerambycidae family (?Long-Horned Beetle) but cannot find an exact match. Regards
Based on the soft body, coloration and antennae, we believe this is a Soldier Beetle in the family Cantharidae, most probably in the genus Chauliognathus as evidenced in the Geocities Website.
Letter 3 – Spotted Lax Beetle from Australia
Spotted Beetle (?)
Sun, Dec 28, 2008 at 8:22 PM
We found two of these fellows crawling on the inside of a lampshade. I’ve only seen one once before, in a bathroom in Northland, New Zealand. Both sightings were in houses with plenty of moderately untended garden, so they may have wandered in from there… any help identifying would be much appreciated.
Auckland, New Zealand
We believe this is a Soldier Beetle in the family Cantharidae, but we cannot find a matching specimen on the Brisbane Insect web site. Perhaps one of our readers can provide a species specific identification for this distinctive beetle.
Nice image of what I’m thinking might be some kind of “false blister beetle” in the family Oedemeridae. I’m sending a query to my entomology listserv to see if anyone can confirm my suspicion of Oedemeridae, and perhaps give a genus and species….
Eric is right, it is an Oedemeridae. It the Spotted lax beetle, Parisopalpus nigronotatus, found in Australia and NZ.
Thanks Diane and Eric,
Though we wanted to try to link to other online postings of this species, we only found one listing on the New Zealand Landcare Research web site without images.
Letter 4 – Mating Tricolor Soldier Beetles from Australia
Mating unknown Longicorns
Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 6:02 PM
Hope the book is progressing well. I found this pair today while photographing a moth. I have not seen such brightly coloured longicorns before and hopefully someone can ID these for me. Hope you like this buglove shot
We are still courting the editor and publisher and the book is still in the concept phase. These are not Longicorns, but Soldier Beetles in the family Cantharidae. On the Brisbane Insect site, they resemble the Tricolor Soldier Beetles, Chauliognathus tricolor.
Letter 5 – Plague Soldier Beetles
Subject: Please identify this insect
Location: Wallan, Victoria. Australia
December 3, 2012 4:39 am
Our gum and bottlebrush trees have been covered with tens of thousands of these green flying insects. Please help with identifying the insect and what are the dangers to our trees.
Thank you in advance.
Signature: Dean and Rose Joyce
Dear Dean and Rose,
We quickly identified your beetles as Plague Soldier Beetles, Chauliognathus lugubris or Chauliognathus pulchellus on the Brisbane Insect website. The site indicates “Sometimes we found the swarms of Plague Soldier Beetles. The aggregations are believed for the purpose of breeding. Most of them in the aggregation are mating.” Despite the common name, they are not considered a threat to the plants, though large numbers might be considered a nuisance. Soldier Beetles, according to the Brisbane Insect family page for Cantharidae: “are abundant on flowers and foliage where they feed on nectar, pollen, or other small insects.” Both Gum and Bottlebrush produce pollen, so there is an ample food source on those trees. Additionally, Soldier Beetles are beneficial as they feed on insects that are injurious to the trees like Aphids and Hoppers. The Wild World of Pests website states: “Every spring I marvel at the numbers of insects devoured by soldier beetles. They’re real troopers in the war on damaging insect in my landscape. … Between the soldier beetles and the ladybugs I don’t have much to worry about, when it comes to aphids. Soldier beetles, sometimes known as leather backs are voracious feeders. The larvae are quite efficient at dispatching aphids and other plant pests, including spider mites, grasshopper eggs, gypsy moth caterpillars, eastern tent caterpillars birch leaf miners, elm leaf beetles, oak webworms, lilac leaf miners, cucumber beetle larvae and many more garden pests. The adults devour large quantities of aphids, but also enjoy nectar and pollen, so it’s a good idea to have lots of flowers around to attract them.” Since the Brisbane Insect website indicates that these large aggregations might be related to mating behavior, we are tagging this posting as Bug Love.
Letter 6 – Plague Soldier Beetle from Australia
Subject: Flying bug swarm
Location: Between Wallan and Kilmore 60km north of Melbourne on open grass land
December 22, 2012 7:19 pm
We have had a swarm of flying beatles both yesterday 22/12/12 and today 23/12/12 and I was wondering what they are as I can find nothing in the news. The bug has a red/orange band on its neck/ in front of its wings.
We live between Wallan and Kilmore 60km north of Melbourne on open grass land. Obviously two hot days have been ideal for hatching I assume but we’ve lived here for 5 years and never seen these.
Signature: Mark Bray
Despite its offputting common name, the Plague Soldier Beetle is not an insect pest, though they can be a nuisance if they are plentiful. You can get additional information on the Brisbane Insect Website.
Letter 7 – Plague Soldier Beetle from Australia
Subject: green bug invades balcony
Location: Docklands, Victoria
January 6, 2013 1:21 am
on Friday when it was hot 40C these beetles invaded my balcony in high numbers and have not left since
Signature: Does this beetle harm my plants
We have posted a few letters over the past several weeks with similar concerns. This is a Plague Soldier Beetle and according to csiro news blog when it was the Insect of the Week in November: “An unfamiliar yellow and green beetle with a soft body may be a source of curiosity if it turns up in your garden. Will it eat the plants, or bite people? A dozen of the beetles together might start to cause concern. But ten thousand of them festooning a tree are bound to raise alarm. Yet the insect in question won’t harm either you or your plants.”
Letter 8 – Plague Soldier Beetles from Australia
Subject: What bug is this
December 17, 2015 12:57 am
Just wanna know what bug is this I’ve never seen before
Signature: How ever
These are Plague Soldier Beetles in the genus Chauliognathus. Despite the common name, they are not considered a threat to the plants, though large numbers might be considered a nuisance. They are frequently found on flowering gum or eucalyptus trees because of the abundance of pollen.
Letter 9 – Soldier Beetles Mating and Talk Radio free advertising
Hi… I JUST this minute heard your website on a talk radio home improvement show…I just had to check it out. I love bugs……. And know little about many of them. But I had a blast the other day taking pictures of bugs ‘doin’ it’… amazing I actually have a place that someone will enjoy seeing them! I’m not sure where to attach the photo’s, so I will do so here. …. Looking forward to checking more of your site soon! If you could name them all for me, I’d appreciate it. I am guessing the red colored bugs are soldier beetles? And of course, dragon flies…the single big one is beautiful…what kind is it?
Out of curiosity, was it a local station and where? I shudder to think what might happen to our mailbox if it was a syndicated show. We will address your photos one at a time. Your mating beetles are Soldier Beetles in the Family Cantharidae, but we even checked with Eric Eaton and we can’t positively identify the species.
I can understand your shudder thought! No fear, tho…. I live in Seattle, Washington, and this was a LOCAL home improvement show that is on Saturday mornings from 9-10am with Tim Lawless. (I record them to tape, to listen to while I am in the garden during the week, therefore the JUST heard it response.) Some lady was inquiring as to something that may be eating near her house (I missed part of the story), and Lawless said he was surfing the web and found ‘a cool site’ (yours), and he stumbled as to whether you were a .net or .com…. Me, being the avid plant lover and bug extraordinaire, ran indoors to the computer to flag it before I forgot your web name… So if it was going to bombard you, it would’ve on Saturday morning…. Ironically, a garden show – 3 hours long- immediately follows that show… thought that interesting to hear a garden report on a home show! 🙂 That being said, I won’t call in your web site to the garden show! 🙂 Thanks a bunch for the info…. I almost thought people would think me too weird if I had pictures of bugs doin’ it, but when my entire Euonymus shrub was covered in mating soldier beetles, it was too much to pass on. We got the dragon fly pictures just this past weekend in the San Juan Islands. Thousands upon thousands of them were hovering around one end of this beautiful lake…all bright turquoise. It was a sight to behold!
Letter 10 – Mating Soldier Beetles from Colorado, probably Colorado Soldier Beetles
Mating Orange Beetles
Sun, Feb 8, 2009 at 12:17 AM
Many of these beetles were mating this fall amongst the wildflowers here in Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs, CO
These are some species of Soldier Beetle or Leatherwing from the genus Chauliognathus. There is a very common eastern species, Chauliognathus pensylvanicus, the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle, but according to BugGuide, there have been no reports from Colorado. There are several species that have been reported from Colorado, but exact species identification is difficult due to your camera angle. Were we to hazard a guess, we would say these are most likely Colorado Soldier Beetles, Chauliognathus basalis, but the distinguishing features according to BugGuide: “head, antennae, legs black; pronotum and elytra reddish-orange; pronotum with semicircular or U-shaped black mark on posterior half; elytra with triangular black patch at base and rectangular black patch at tip color of elytra is apparently variable (polymorphic) and is the subject of research papers ” are not visible in your image. As a general note on the excellent macro photographs you have sent to us for identification: images showing only the specimens’ heads makes identification very difficult for us. We would request that you only send images of the entire insect in question for identification purposes.
August 10, 2009
This copulating pair of soldier beetles is most likely C. pennsylvanicus and not C. basalis. The color and elytral markings are much more consistent with that of C. pennsylvanicus and do not resemble those of C. basalis. See the image from the Mating Pennsylvania Leatherwings post of Dec. 16, 2006 and you will see that these two images represent the same beetle species. I grew up collecting copulating C. pennsulvanicus from wild sunflowers in SD and have seen thousands of them.
Letter 11 – Soldier Beetle Larva rescued from Chickens
Subject: Velvety Caterpillar With a Heart
Location: Rose Hill/Montecito Hts, CA
March 8, 2013 11:51 am
While I have quite a few images I want to send you of many insects I can’t identify I am especially excited to send you this one.
I found him (her?) this morning as I moved my chicken’s snack dish on the ground. I am proud to say that I managed to save this startled soul and fend off four very hungry girls while I whisked him to the safety of my kitchen floor for a photo shoot.
Now this is a fast little bugger – and probably for good reason. I usually find his kind in and around the chicken coop under hay , boards & dishes. More often than not a watchful eye & hungry beak snap them up before I can intervene… they are approximately an inch in length and their heads about the size of a millet seed.
As I type this I am hit with a thought: Soldier Beetle? Yes! I do believe this is a soldier beetle larvae with a lovely heart on it’s back. Can you confirm?
If it’s a soldier beetle it certainly explains their lessening numbers in my back yard since I got the chickens!
Thank you in advance.
PS after the photo shoot I released him into a flower pot on my front porch in a chicken-free zone.
When we first looked at the thumbnail of this creature rolled in a ball, we thought it looked like a Cutworm, which often roll into a ball like this image from BugGuide, and we thought we were going to have to write back to you that you should not have saved if from the chickens if you value your tender garden plants, however, upon seeing the higher resolution images, we agree that this looks like a Soldier Beetle larva based on photos posted in our archive as well as to BugGuide and to pBase. Considering your location near our own offices, this Soldier Beetle Larva is most likely that of the Brown Leatherwing, Pacificanthia consors, a species common in our own yard in the spring. We are tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian Award because of your kindness to the lower beasts.
Subject: Velvet Caterpillar Pt 2
Location: Rose Hill/Montecito Hts, CA
March 8, 2013 11:57 am
I realize that I sent you the wrong image – well, they are all images of what I believe is the soldier beetle larvae, but this on in particular has the heart visible.
We had already lightened your previous photos and the marking you mentioned is visible, but we will include this image as well.
This is a long overdue email. Life & work got in the way keeping me from a timely response.
Thank you for taking the time to help identify my “velvet caterpillar” I haven’t seen many more of them but I am hopeful that I will still have plenty of beetles later on in the season.
My yard has now moved on to host the latest caterpillar du jour, wooly bears! I will enjoy them while they last 🙂
I love your site and go through it every chance I get.
Letter 12 – Mating Soldier Beetles from Zambia
Subject: Bug ID
January 26, 2017 11:52 pm
Hi. I am a farmer in Zambia, Central Africa, and have noticed a lot of these bugs on my sorghum crop. They are not damaging the crop but I am hoping that maybe they are predatory and maybe feeding on either the yellow cane aphids or fall army worm eggs/larvae. Any help would be appreciated. We are in our mid summer wet season.
We believe these are Soldier Beetles in the family Cantharidae. This posting on iSpot looks like a very good visual match, but it is only identified to the family level. Of the family members, BugGuide states: “Adults eat nectar, pollen, other insects; larvae are fluid-feeding predators, feed on insect eggs and larvae” so we are pleased to inform you that this is a beneficial species and you have no cause to worry about your crop.
Thanks for the quick response, these most certainly look like soldier beetles. Now you have narrowed it down for me I will do a bit more research into them and try and figure out exactly which one it is, will keep you posted.
Letter 13 – Soldier Beetle from Costa Rica: Bad Molt
Subject: antlike insect
Geographic location of the bug: costa rica Monteverde
Time: 08:25 PM EDT
I took this shot outside the family Van Trapp hotel in Monteverde Costa Rica
I was taking a walk at night and saw this weird insect. I tried to find information but could not find any so I hope you will be able to tell me. Thanks
How you want your letter signed: Terri
This is a Soldier Beetle in the family Cantharidae, and something has gone wrong during the molting process which led to deformed wings. Several years ago, we posted a nearly identical image of a Soldier Beetle from Costa Rica that had undergone a bad molt. Alamy has an image of what the Soldier Beetle should look like, but alas, the species is not identified.