Archive for the ‘beetle’ Category

Flower Longhorn Beetles

August 11, 2012

Strangalepta abbreviata on Wild Hydrangea

Yellow-horn Strangalia on Button Bush

Longhorn beetles get their name because of their thin and long antennae, usually as long as their bodies or even longer. Among them there is a group often found on flowers, the flower longhorns. One interesting characteristic of flower longhorns is that they are all very slender, almost tubular shaped. Adults feed primarily on pollen and nectar; that is why they frequent flowers. They are mid sized beetles between 1/2 and 3/4″ in length, not including the antennae.

The Yellow-horn Strangalia is among the thinnest ones. Its long antennae are yellow, and they have a pattern of dots or marks on the wings. Found in the eastern states.


Strangalepta abbreviata is stouter, black with orange lengthwise stripes. There is great variation of markings: some are all black or almost all orange. Eastern and central states only.

Cortodera is similar to Strangalepta abbreviata but it is found only in the West.

Banded Longhorn beetle on Wild Hydrangea

The Banded Longhorn has a pattern similar to that of the Yellow-horn but it is easy to tell apart because of its stouter shape. It is still leaner than most beetles one is familiar with. Rich brown color with yellow-orange cross bands Sometimes the bands are reduced to spots. Eastern and central states only.

Habitat: Fields, openings, with flowers, adjacent to woodlands.

Season: From May to August, most abundant in June and July.

Flowers: Flowers of the carrot family, rose family, aster family. The Banded Longhorn has a special preference for Echinacea.

Flower longhorns
Yellow-horn Strangalia
Strangalepta abbreviata
Banded Longhorn

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Japanese Beetle

July 26, 2012

Japanese Beetle on button bush

We can’t talk about flower visitors without mentioning a famously unwelcome one, the Japanese Beetle. As its name indicates, it is originally from Japan. It was accidentally introduced with live plants in New Jersey almost a century ago and it has been spreading steadily since. If you live in the Eastern United States you can be sure to have seen it, most likely devouring your flowers. Its westward march is aided by the plant trade. It has shown up now and then in most western states.

Several Japanese Beetles on common milkweed

We must admit that it is a pretty beetle, with its metallic colors; the wing covers are red or copper red and the pronotum is green. It has tufts of white hairs bordering the abdomen. It is robust, oval-shaped, approximately 3/8″ in length, not a good flyer. It tends to stay in groups feeding on leaves or petals. When molested sometimes stretches a leg or two in self defense and continues eating.

It is not known to be a pollinator, rather it is more likely to cause harm to flowers. When you find one it may not be a pretty picture.

Habitat: Gardens, farm fields.

Season: Mostly June and July. Also in later months.

Flowers: They seem to have a preference for ornamentals such as roses; but almost any kind of flower will do. They also feed on native flowers, like milkweeds and many members of the daisy family.

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Tumbling flower beetles

June 1, 2011

Mordellistena cervicalis

Mordellistena cervicalis

Tumbling flower beetles get their name from their habit of dropping from flowers tumbling down when molested. They are rather small, humpbacked and wedge shaped, their most striking feature is their pointy rear end, which causes the characteristic tumbling movement. Sometimes they are called pintail beetles. Most of them are black, but some have a reddish head or gray color and also other patterns.

They are frequent flower visitors, but probably not very good pollinators.

Habitat. Open fields, meadows

Season. Most common between June and August

Flowers. Often found on wide open flowers, Queen-Anne’s-lace and members of the daisy family

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Soldier beetles

April 28, 2011

Goldenrod soldier beetle. Notice the black head and the square spot on the pronotum

Many beetles visit flowers. Some perform a moderate amount of pollination although, in general, they are not as good as other insects. Among them, soldier beetles are often found on flowers, feeding on nectar and pollen. Their larvae usually feed on eggs and larvae of other insects and are valued as biological pest controls. Soldier beetles are almost rectangular in shape and have red and black or orange and black colors. Some soldier beetles look like army uniforms of old times, before the days of camouflage and that is how they got their name. The first pair of wings of beetles is hard and serves to cover and protect the second pair which are membranous and used for flying. In soldier beetles the cover wings are softer; this has earned them their other common name, leatherwing beetles

Mating leatherwing beeltes. Notice the color of the head and the pronotum

Two very common soldier beetles are the goldenrod soldier beetle and the margined leatherwing. Both are very similar in appearance, orangish or yellow with black markings on the wings. These markings can vary in size markedly in both species. This makes it tricky to tell them apart. The main differences between the two types of beetles are that the goldenrod beetle has an all black head and the black spot on its pronotum (the section between the head and wings) is square. The margined leatherwing, on the other hand has some orange on the head and the pronotum’s dark patch is like a longitudinal bar.

Margined leatherback beetle. Notice the color of the wings

Finally, one good difference is the time of the year in which they are active. You find the goldenrod beetle in late summer and in the fall and it mostly visits goldenrod flowers. The margined leatherwing is active earlier in the season, so it is not likely to be seen on goldenrod, which hasn’t started blooming.

Habitat. Fields, gardens

Season. Margined leatherwing, from May to June or even July. Goldenrod soldier beetle, August, September

Flowers. Margined leatherwing, asters, queen Anne’s lace, milkweeds. Goldenrod soldier beetle, primarily goldenrod and other fall flowers.

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From poop to gold

April 3, 2010
Golden Tortoise Beetle © Beatriz Moisset. 2009

Golden Tortoise Beetle
© Beatriz Moisset. 2009

Somewhere around there, there is a little beetle with a sweet tooth for sweet potato leaves. It goes about munching leaves day after day and growing very fast, but if you saw it you would never guess that it is a beetle. Like all other beetles it starts its life as a wormy looking thing called a larva or a grub. Butterflies do that to, they look very different when they are babies and go through a dramatic change before they emerge as winged adult insects.

It is a tiny grub, no bigger than your baby sister’s pinky’s fingernail. It is all wrinkly and has powerful jaws for chewing the tasty leaves. This grub has a very peculiar habit, each time that it poops, instead of dropping its waste and moving on, it places it on its back along with the remnants of skin that it sheds periodically. To do that it has this curious thing with several hooks looking like a coat rack sticking out of its back. In other words it carries its old skin, its poop as well as some little pieces of debris held on high like an umbrella over its back.

Golden Tortoise Beetle larva carrying its feces  © Beatriz Moisset. 2009

Golden Tortoise Beetle larva carrying its feces
© Beatriz Moisset. 2009

It diligently takes care of this nasty umbrella; each time that it needs to relieve itself it stretches a long and flexible hose from its back end and skillfully spreads the material on top of the existing messy thing. When it dries up it turns black and rather disgusting. You wouldn’t know that there is a living creature underneath.

Why would it have such a filthy habit? Didn’t its mother teach it any better? Well, it turns out that it has very good reasons for doing this. The poop beetle is a very tasty morsel that any passing bird would gobble up with relish. But birds don’t feel tempted by such an ugly sight, so they fail to see the snack underneath. That is how the little grub can go on munching away unmolested hiding in plain sight.

Sweet potato plants look similar to morning glories and for a very good reason, they are related plants. The poop beetle grub likes morning glories just as much as it likes sweet potatoes; so if there are some morning glories in your neighborhood you may be lucky and get to see one of them. Look at the leaves and if you see holes here and there they may be on the right track for finding a poop beetle grub. Remember that it is very little and that it looks like nothing but a piece of black debris. Also, it may have already left the plant and moved on somewhere else. However, if you see one it is possible that it will wave its umbrella once or twice if startled, hoping to scare away the observer.

After it has been eating almost non-stop for a couple of weeks it will reach its full size and now it will be ready to turn into its adult shape as a beetle, that looks vaguely like a tiny ladybug. This is not an easy transformation; a lot has to take place to make all the changes, grow legs, antennae, wings. So it needs peace and quiet while doing all this remodeling. It may move to another plant nearby, not necessarily a morning glory, sweet potato or related plant, but something altogether different such as goldenrod.

It prefers to anchor itself on the underside of a leaf and once there it sheds its skin one more time and may or may not drop the umbrella along with it. Now it looks like an armored little tank called a pupa. The pupa goes to sleep for just about a week, after which time it wakes up ready to start a new life. Not much happens on the outside, but huge changes are taking place inside.

When it is time to come out of this shell the poop grub has one final trick up its sleeve. The front part of the pupal case opens up on two hinges; all what it takes is a little push and the front opens like a double door and the brand new beetle emerges like a car getting out of a garage, a very tight parking space if I may say so.

The gorgeous little creature that emerges bears no resemblance to the larva or the pupa. It is like a tiny turtle; its shell is glossy pink with a hint of gold. And then, depending on how the light hits it, it looks gold with a hint of pink. It may remind you of nail polish; pale at first, becoming a little richer and darker in a few hours. It usually sports six black dots; its edge is flared and transparent. The freshly emerged new beetle waves two delicate antennae exploring the new world. It may take a while before it tries its new wings and take to the air. Now it can proudly bear the name for which it is best known, the golden tortoise beetle.

One wonders how this little piece of gold and pink emerged from such ugly, dirty grub. Keep checking those morning glories, you may be rewarded by its sight, just remember, it is no bigger than a tiny gob of pink nail polish.

Learn more here

Beginners Guide to Flower Visitors

© Beatriz Moisset. 2009