Since I let all the brassicas bloom (that is, the cabbage, kale, mustard, broccoli, and cauliflower), I’ve been seeing a lot of beneficial insects in the garden. My kale is riddled with cabbage aphids, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before the predators started showing up.
Soldier beetles (or more accurately, leatherwing beetles) are an insect you want to invite into your garden. Less than an inch in length, and brightly colored (like a soldier wearing a uniform, hence the common name), these carnivorous bugs overwinter in leaf litter and debris, and lay their eggs in the soil. The larvae hatch underneath the soil and eat the tiny bugs they find there. As adults, they roam plants looking for eggs, or caterpillars, or aphids. They do not damage plant material. They will eat pollen and nectar, which also makes them excellent pollinators.
Soldier beetles (Pacificanthia consors) look a lot like lightening bugs, but they do not have light-producing organs. When I put this picture up on iNaturalist (and, are you a member yet? It’s such a great citizen-science site!), someone identified it as a Downy Leatherwing Beetle. Researching them online is difficult because they haven’t been studied extensively. I did find some advice on how to attract them to your garden: Choose flowers that bloom over a long season. Provide water, as they are known to frequent moist habitats. Provide undisturbed, mulched soil in which to pupate. Include permanent perennials in your planting scheme to help keep that area undisturbed. Do not till, but rather add organic matter to the top of your soil (good all-around advice, anyway). And let me know if you see them in your garden!
Here’s another beauty I found flitting about in the chard, today. A Painted Lady! I haven’t seen a painted lady (Vanessa cardui) in my garden in a long time. And it’s early in the season for butterflies. Favorite host food for the caterpillars includes hollyhocks (I’ve got those), legumes (I’ve got those), and thistles (the nearby open space has got those). I’m delighted to see this beautiful butterfly and hope this means I can look forward to lots more in the summer to come!