What Do Soldier Beetles Eat? Helpful Facts

If you spot a large bug in your garden, it is natural to question what it eats and whether it can be harmful to you. Below we explain what do soldier beetles eat and why they are particularly beneficial for you.

Soldier beetles are common garden dwellers that help in controlling insect populations and pollinating flowers.

They are important predators to maintain the balance in your garden’s ecosystem, mainly feeding on insect eggs, aphids, insect larvae, and snails.

They are harmless to humans and plants, though they do emit a chemical to deter predators.

What Do Soldier Beetles Eat
Mating Goldenrod Soldier Beetles

What Are Soldier Beetles?

Also known as leatherwings, Soldier Beetles are common, soft-bodied beetles found throughout the world.

They can grow up to ½ inch in length and have long bodies with a head that are bent downwards.

Adult soldier beetles have a yellow or brownish color, followed by black spots on their wings.

They look similar to other lightning bugs, like fireflies and glowworm beetles but do not produce light like them. They belong to the family Cantharidae, with over 3500 species under it.

They have four life stages, beginning with the female soldier beetle laying eggs that hatch in around ten days.

This is followed by the larvae feeding for a couple of years before forming pupae within the topsoil. From the pupae emerges an adult beetle.

What Do They Eat?

Soldier Beetles are generally omnivorous and predatory. Their diet consists of other smaller insects in the garden, such as caterpillars, ground-dwelling, insect eggs, soft-bodied insects, and aphids.

However, as adults, they often wait in flowers for prey to come by and, during this time, suck on nectar without damaging the flower or plant.

As Larvae

Soldier beetle larvae, though rarely seen, are bright red in color. They are ground dwellers and feed on snails, grasshopper eggs, moths, root maggots, and larvae of other insects.

¾ inches long, they look like mini-alligators! Larvae are not identified as threats to plants and, in general, are important predators in the garden to control invasive insects.

As Adults

Apart from their larval diet, as adults, they also sometimes feed on nectar and pollen and thus help in propagating plants. They are beneficial insects in most gardens and are not considered invasive.

If they make their way into your home, you can vacuum them out. They are harmless and do not bite.

Despite some species of soldier beetles having aggressive local names like ‘bloodsucker’ – they do not have piercing mouth parts as adults – they have a chewing mouth.

What Eats Soldier Beetles?

Both adult beetles and larvae are food for quite a few other animals.

Bats, spiders, and many birds are known to feed on soldier beetles. Some rodents and smaller reptiles also prey on them.

How Can You Attract Them To Your Garden

A controlled population of soldier beetles in your garden can help keep smaller insects in control and help with pollen propagation.

A good time to bring them into your garden is during the late summer months. This is when most insects lay eggs, which soldier beetle larvae can then feast on.

An easy way to attract them is to plant flowers they like. This includes goldenrod, catnip, hydrangeas, milkweed, yarrow, linden, and colorful flowers such as marigolds.

Adult beetles typically mate within flowers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do soldier beetles fly?

Adult soldier beetles are quick and fast fliers, looking similar to wasps when in flight between flowers. 
They have softened forewings that do not cover their entire body, unlike other beetles earning them the nickname of leatherwings. Larvae are ground dwellers without flight. 

Do soldier beetles eat fruit?

Soldier beetles are omnivorous and feed on pollen, nectar as well as smaller insects. However, they do not chew on fruit, flowers, or leaves. 
While sucking nectar, they do not damage plants. Thus, they do not pose a problem to any garden owner. 

Do soldier beetles eat aphids?

Aphids are tiny insects that suck sap from plants and are quite damaging to crops. Soldier beetles, both as larvae and adults, feed on a wide variety of aphids and their eggs. 
This makes solder beetles great garden allies to have.

How long do soldier beetles live?

The life cycle of soldier beetles goes from egg to larvae, not a complete metamorphosis in pupae, and then a beetle.
As larvae, they survive for 1 to 3 years. Adults survive for around three months, usually from June to August.

Wrap Up

You might rarely see the very small, velvety red larvae of soldier beetles in your garden.

However, know that they play an important role in keeping your plants healthy and well. Their predatory diet acts as well as any pesticide.

Thank you for reading. We hope you learned something new!

Reader Emails

Over the years, many of our readers have asked us questions like whether these little bugs are dangerous and what they eat or do not eat.

We would love for you to go through them and understand how some gardeners are using their diet to invite these bugs over to their yards.

Letter 1 – Soldier Beetle and possibly Scale Insects

 

blister beetle and its lunch?
Hello!
The bugs: From looking at the beetle pages on your site, I’m pretty sure this is a blister beetle. The photo was taken on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, on 4/26. Unfortunately I don’t know what kind of plant this is. There is something like an egg sac to the right of the beetle, and little larvae are coming out of it. You can actually see one emerging from a hole, and there are others climbing up the stem. Is this beetle preying on them? Do you have any idea what type of bugs are coming out of the egg case? a picture of an intact egg case on the same plant: There were some Rosa rugosa growing nearby that also had the same types of egg cases, and many of them had a single drop of moisture hanging from them, as if they were oozing. The cases all had different black/brown/tan patterns and were very pretty.
Thanks!!
jess



Hi Jess,
We are not certain this is a Blister Beetle, and we cannot find a species match on BugGuide. We will check with Eric Eaton regarding the species and also see if he has any knowlege of the cases. Here is Eric Eaton’s response: ” Hard to tell from the image, but given the information provided, I don’t think it is a blister beetle. More likely it is a soldier beetle, family Cantharidae. I never saw blister beetles in the spring in Oregon, and cantharids are predatory on aphids and such, and are abundant in the spring. The “egg case” looks to be some kind of large scale insect. Could be that it is a female, and her offspring are exiting from beneath her. Scale insects disperse as tiny crawlers, so I imagine that is what is going on here.”

Letter 2 – Soldier Beetle from England: Cantharis rustica

 

Subject: What is this bug? Location: London May 23, 2015 12:22 pm Hi – my little boy is studying bugs and discovered the attached and asked me what it was???! Can you help? Signature: J
Soldier Beetle
Soldier Beetle
Dear J, This is a Soldier Beetle in the family Cantharidae, and according to Eakring Birds:  “There are about 40 UK species of Soldier Beetles which belong to the Cantharidae family of beetles. Many species are common in Nottinghamshire and are a frequent sight on thistles and umbelliferous flowers during the Summer months. Some of the red Cantharidae beetles, were often commonly referred to by schoolboys as Bloodsuckers. They are however, completely harmless.”  The image at the top of the page looks the most like your individual, but alas, it is not identified.  The Micropics site has images of Cantharis nigricans that look like a good match to your individual. Thank you so much!! My son is thrilled

Letter 3 – Soldier Beetle from the UK

 

Subject: Weird Bug Location: Norfolk, United Kingdom May 30, 2015 3:33 am I found this weird bug in my tent at about 9:00 AM in the morning. It looks like a soldier beetle, but doesn’t match all it’s features. Any ideas? Is it possible to breed/raise them? I run a bug zoo, and I raise woodlice, caterpillars, house spiders, maggots, snails, crickets, etc, so this will be a good addition to it. Sorry about the blurry pix – I was trying to use a USB Microscope on it! Thanks, Alex
Soldier Beetle
Soldier Beetle
Hi Alex, We agree this looks like a Soldier Beetle.  A recent posting was identified as Cantharis rusticaWe have no information on raising them in captivity.  

Letter 4 – Soldier Beetle from England

 

Subject: Big found!!! Location: Norwich March 30, 2017 3:42 pm Please help found three of these in my house in the last week and have a very young baby so worried invade they carry bugs or bite Signature: Maria
Soldier Beetle
This beetle is not a threat to your baby. Thankyou, what type of beetle is it?? Dear Maria, Your initial request to us did not include an identification request.  It seemed mostly a desperate “stream of consciousness” plea, without punctuation, for assurance that your child would not be threatened.  This appears to be a Soldier Beetle in the family Cantharidae, and we found what appears to be your species on UK Safari where it is identified as Rhagonycha fulva and described as “one of several similar looking beetles which go under the general name of Soldier Beetles or Sailor Beetles.  Soldier beetles have narrow bodies and long antennae. This particular species has brown wing casings with black tips.  They are often seen in large numbers in June and July on flower heads of cow parsley and hogweed. It’s quite rare to see them singly. More often they are seen as mating pairs, earning them the nickname of ‘bonking beetles‘.”  According to The WCG:  “Widely distributed and common throughout England and Wales although more local in the north and southern Scotland.”  Soldier Beetles are beneficial predators that feed on small insects.  From what we have read, this seems to be quite early for this particular species.  Has your weather been unseasonably warm?

2 thoughts on “What Do Soldier Beetles Eat? Helpful Facts”

Leave a Comment