The little beetle was so small, I didn’t feel it crawl along the small of my back. I was napping in the sun while my good friend Nalee read beside me. I had been reading too, but the warm sun had lulled me into a light sleep. Nalee woke me gently and pointed out the bright red bug as it crawled along my hip. I coaxed the bug onto my index finger and smiled. He would be my springtime best friend.
I set the beetle in the grass beside the blanket I was laying on, expecting him to go off and do his bug things and live his bug life. I decided that I was through napping for the moment and tried to do a little reading. I picked up my book and sleepily turned through the pages. After a few short moments, my springtime best friend was crawling on my blanket towards me.
I held out my finger and he crawled on, twitched his antennae, and then flew away. I knew that he loved me almost as much as I loved him—or maybe not. Maybe he was just doing his bug thing and that’s okay too.
As it turns out, my springtime best friend was a species of soldier beetle. Small, thin and elongated with bright red wings fading into black. Other species of soldier beetle are brown or yellow with black markings or black with yellow markings. Soldier beetles are also referred to as “leather wings” due to the leathery quality of their wing coverings, or elytra. These little beetles are closely related to fireflies and are a common friend in fields and meadows.
These bugs and their larvae prey on other soft-bodied insects. One of their favorite treats is grasshopper larvae, which tend to cause problems in an ecosystem when they’re too abundant. These little friends also wait for their prey on goldenrods and other important flowers in need of pollination. They kill the insects that would kill the flowers and pollinate the flowers when they fly from blossom to blossom, searching their prey.
Beetles, or insects within the Coleopteran order, are an enormous group of the insect family. Coleoptera is actually the largest known order in the animal kingdom at this time containing an estimate of about 25% of known life forms on earth.
My little friend was a common red soldier beetle, also known as the “hogweed bonking beetle” because it often sits in wait on hogweed plants—which are much prettier than I was expecting them to be! That is just so adorable. They’re also known as “bloodsucker beetles”, but that’s just because of their color. They’re harmless to humans, and even make great friends.
These beetles are the most common species of soldier beetle in the U.K., but they’re only a little less common in the U.S. They were introduced to the U.S. from Canada a while back and now they’re a welcome staple in the ecosystem.
These beetles typically emerge in the summertime, meaning that my little friend came out a tad early. Although the weather hasn’t stayed nice these past few weeks, I’ll take that as a sign that spring really is here and warm days will soon be here to stay.
They aren’t the good luck blessing of a ladybug, but with the deceptive Asian ladybeetles coming in swarms, invading our bedrooms and muddying the good name of small, round, red beetles, I’ll take the little red bug as a good sign. This tiny little beetle saves flowers and spreads joy wherever it goes.
I napped a little longer, finding that reading was fruitless. It was a beautiful day.