Soldier Beetle

Last updated: October 9, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Muskoka Stock Photos/Shutterstock.com

Soldier beetles resemble fireflies, but they're not bioluminescent.

Soldier Beetle Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Insecta
Order
Coleoptera
Family
Cantharidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Soldier Beetle Conservation Status


Soldier Beetle Facts

Prey
aphihds and other soft-bodied insects
Main Prey
Aphids
Name Of Young
larvae
Group Behavior
  • Solitary/Pairs
Fun Fact
Soldier beetles resemble fireflies, but they're not bioluminescent.
Most Distinctive Feature
Soft leather-like wings
Distinctive Feature
They have a distinct head that is typically bent downward
Other Name(s)
Leatherwing beetles
Habitat
High humidity areas with abundance of leaf litter, plant debris, and loose soil
Predators
Birds, lizards and amphibians
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Necter, pollen and soft-bodied insects
Type
Beetles
Common Name
Soldier beetles
Special Features
Long threadlike antennae
Location
Worldwide

Soldier Beetle Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Black
  • Multi-colored
Lifespan
3-6 months
Length
5mm - 15mm (0.2inch - 0.6inch)
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Soldier beetles resemble fireflies, but they’re not bioluminescent. 

Summary

Insects in the family Cantharidae are known by the common name ‘soldier beetles.’ They’re outdoor insects but may be found indoors occasionally as accidental invaders. They’re characterized by soft, clothlike wings, which are often brightly colored. Soldier beetles are harmless. In fact, they’re beneficial insects because they predate on small insect pests and may also help pollinate flowers because they feed on nectar and pollen. 

Soldier Beetles Species, Types, and Scientific Name

The common name “soldier beetle” refers to any species of insects in the family Cantharidae. There are approximately 1300 species in this group, and they’re widely distributed worldwide. They belong to the order Coleoptera along with over 400,000 other beetles

Their common name is a reference to the color patterns of their wings, which look like the red coat of the uniform of early British soldiers. Their wing covers have a smooth velvet appearance. They’re soft and flexible like leather. This is why people sometimes call this beetle leather wing beetle.  

Adults resemble other insects in the large superfamily Elateroidea where they also belong. This includes close relatives like the click beetles, fireflies, and glow worms. However, unlike many of their close relatives, soldier beetles are not bioluminescent. 

The family Cantharidae is often divided into five subfamilies with 1500 genera. These subfamilies of soldier beetles include: 

  1. Cantharinae
  2. Chauliognathinae
  3. Dysmorphocerinae
  4. Malthininae
  5. Silinae

Common species in North America include Chauliognathus marginatus and C. pennsylvanicus. In Europe, soldier beetles in the genera Cantharis and Rhagonycha are quite common. 

Appearance: How to Identify Soldier Beetles

Adult soldier beetles have elongated bodies with straight sides. Color varies from one species to another, but they’re common dark brown to black with red, yellow, or orange spots. They have a distinct head that is typically bent downward. Leather wing beetles also have long threadlike antennae with 11-segments. The antenna is commonly held forward on their body. Their pronotum (the first segment of their thorax) is typically wider than the head.

Like other beetles, they have thick wing covers that hide a pair of flying wings. However, their elytra do not cover their body completely, exposing their last abdominal segment. Soldier beetles also go by the common name leather wings or leather wing beetles. This nickname refers to the soft, cloth-like texture of their wing cover. 

Adults vary in size from species to species. However, they typically range between 1.5 to 28mm (1/16 to 1⅛ inches)long. Larvae have an elongated cylindrical body with a flattened head. They typically have rounded segments and can grow to lengths of up to 18mm (¾ inches). They’re typically dark brown or dark yellowish. 

Soldier beetles look like lightning bugs. While both insects are members of the same superfamily, leatherwings are not bioluminescent. Leather wings are active, and they fly quite readily. When moving from flower to flower, they often resemble bees or wasps

Habitat: Where to Find Soldier Beetles

Leatherbacks are widely distributed. They’re live in different locations and in varying habitat worldwide. Adults lay eggs in moist soil, and the larvae remain in the soil or under loose bark and other debris. They spend their winter in the larvae, typically emerging as adults in early summer. 

You’ll likely see adults from flower to flower as they feed on nectar and common plant-infesting insects like aphids. Adults often mate on flowers as well. They sometimes enter indoor spaces as accidental invaders. This typically happens in the fall when they’re looking for protected spaces to overwinter.

Diet: What Do Soldier Beetles Eat?

Leatherwings larvae prey on the eggs and larvae of various insects. A few species feed on fleshy roots and seeds, but not enough to be prolific pests. Adults have diverse diets that vary from one species to the other. Some species are predominantly herbivorous, feeding on pollen and nectar. Others are predaceous, preying on soft-bodied insects such as aphids. Because they tend to help pollinate flowers and can eat insect pests, leatherwing beetles are beneficial insects. 

What Eats Soldier Beetles?

Birds, reptiles, and rodents can prey on soldier beetles. When threatened, adults of some species can drop to the ground and withdraw their legs to appear dead. Their conspicuous red and black coloration also serves as a warning to potential predators that they’re distasteful. They can also secrete noxious chemicals from their abdominal glands to deter predators. 

Prevention: How to Get Rid of Soldier Beetles

There is often no need to control soldier beetles. If you ignore them, they’ll leave on their own. In gardens, it’s best to leave them. They’re beneficial insects as they help pollinate flowers and get rid of insect pests. It is best to seal off potential entry points to prevent them from getting indoors. If they do get into your home, you can use a vacuum cleaner to remove the beetles safely. 

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated freelance writer on Upwork. He can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing on health, technology and animals. He is inquisitive and currently aspires to become a software engineer. He loves animals, especially horses and would love to have one someday.

Soldier Beetle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are fireflies soldier beetles?

Although soldier beetles and fireflies are closely related, they’re different. Both insects belong to the superfamily Elateroidea. However, unlike fireflies, soldier beetles don’t have light-producing organs on their body.

How do I get rid of soldier beetles?

Since they’re not harmful to humans and are beneficial to insects, it is best not to get rid of soldier beetles. To keep them from getting into the house where they could be a nuisance, you should weather-strip your home and caulk potential entry points.

Do soldier beetles bite?

No, soldier beetles don’t bite. They feed on nectar and pollen in flowers or on soft-bodied insects. Leatherwings have no biting or stinging mouthparts.

How long do soldier beetles live?

Soldier beetles have an average lifespan of 3 months. They emerge in July and are active from August through September.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. University of Minnesota Extension, Available here: https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-insects/soldier-beetles
  2. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Available here: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/soldier-beetle
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soldier_beetle
  4. UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES, Available here: https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/natural-enemies/soldier-beetles/

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