Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Friday, September 4, 2015

Pollinator of the Week!

 Our pollinator of the week goes by several names~Pennsylvania soldier beetle, Goldenrod soldier beetle or Pennsylvania leatherwing. They're a common beetle in the eastern US and they're found in a staggering number on wildflowers in late summer/early fall, where they feed on pollen and meet a mate. Because of their frequent contact with flowers, soldier beetles are important pollinators. (above:Verbesina)
Feeding on Wild garlic
In my garden the adults are commonly seen on my favorite fall blooming  rough and tumble wildflowers~ Solidago, Verbesina, Stokesia, Heleniums and even alliums. They're harmless to humans and the flowers they visit, but, the number of visitors per flower may worry new or inexperienced gardeners. Please leave them be, they're beneficial garden critters.
'Peachie's Pick' Stokesia with Soldier Beetle
Pollination is incidental, soldier beetles are there to feed and mate. It's their larvae that do the most "beneficial" work for our garden systems, feeding on soft bodied critters in the soil. We're unlikely to see the larvae, which have been described as looking like tiny alligators, they're hidden in the leaf litter munching on grasshopper eggs and other soft bodied insects that might harm our garden plants. (Please note, here's another good reason to leave the leaves in place, many beneficial insects over winter in fallen leaves.)
Feeding on Helenium
If your goal is to have a pesticide free garden then you want to attract as many beneficial insects as possible to your garden. If you want soldier beetles, then plant pollen rich wildflowers like goldenrods, Verbesinas and other asteraceas that bloom in the late summer or early fall.

Happy pollinator gardening.

Name:    Chauliognathus pensylvanicus
Family:  Cantharidae
Size:       5/8-inch long
Color:     orange beetles, with two prominent brown-black spots on the elytra
Seen:       August and September in the middle south, July in the upper midwest
Roll:        Beneficial insect: Adult pollinates flowers and the larvae predates on grasshopper eggs and soft 
                bodied bugs

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I have been seeing these in the garden for many years, but I'm thinking it was just a few days ago that I learned the larvae feed in the soil/leaf litter. I am going to share this with Gardening with Nature in Mind, where we have been talking about this insect.

  2. I just love this! I learned so much today. I see those beetles all the time on my flowers. I put down more shredded leaves yesterday. Thank you.~~Dee

  3. Great photos and interesting information!

  4. Thanks for the post. Very educational. Like Corner Gardener Sue, I was unaware that the larvae fed in the leaf litter.

    Do you know what the adults eat? Do they feed on pollen or nectar?

    In previous years, I saw zillions (technical term) of soldier beetles on my 'Lemon Queen' perennial sunflower.

    This year, with that plant having flamed out, I'm happy to say the beetles seem to have stuck around. I've seen them on Autumn Joy sedum (which unfortunately also seems to be struggling) and on Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop). There are lots of them on my neighbor's Gaillardia plants, but strangely none on my Gaillardias...

    1. Thanks for the question~They eat pollen and nectar and there's some disagreement on whether they also eat soft bodied insects like aphids. Some soldier beetles do.

  5. Yep, I have seen these little fellows in my garden many times.

  6. It always feels like summer is in full swing when I see these guys. This year, they showed up a little later than usual (mid August), They're entertaining to watch! In my garden, they prefer the Rudbeckias.

  7. Thanks for such great information, Gail. I knew little about these beetles other than their name and that they were harmless; now I know that they're my gardening friend as well!

  8. I do see these guys too but had not thought of them as pollinators...I LOVE your sidebar and I try to have information like that, but your info is clear and concise.. really well done....The teacher in me loves it... the aspiring gardener in me learns from it...Michelle

  9. Nice post w/great pics! Good work, Gail! These guys don't get out to CA.

  10. I've never seen this little soldier. He looks like an alien in the 3rd picture!

  11. They remind me of lightning bugs, just not quite as cute! There aren't many bugs that I wish away from my garden, mostly just Japanese beetles and grasshoppers. Oh, and aphids!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson