A mating aggregation of Chauliognathus lugubris

The insect news is carrying stories of soldier beetle swarms overrunning Australia:

A local Bondi resident, Sandra Bianchi, said she and her husband first noticed the beetles on Tuesday afternoon.

”We were looking out onto the balcony and then all of a sudden there was a swarm,” Mrs Bianchi said. ”There were millions of them. When they fly they look like little helicopters.”

When the insects returned a day later, they landed on any surface they could find – the balcony, nearby trees, even her husband’s head.

“Huh,” I thought. “That sounds familiar.”

In fact, Mrs. Myrmecos and I had driven into the middle of one such aggregation while travelling through the Australian alps last month. Long strings of acrid, stinking beetles hung off the trees and covered the grass in beetle-y clumps. I took a few photographs, promised myself I’d look up the colorful insects when I got home, and promptly forgot about the whole thing until reading the bug news this morning.

Chauliognathus lugubris, the plague soldier beetle.

Chauliognathus lugubris, the plague soldier beetle, is perhaps misnamed. Although these insects are indeed helicoptering into the Australian suburbs in impressive numbers, gardeners should welcome the swarm. Far from being a damaging plague, soldier beetles are predators of other insects, including a number of herbivorous pest insects. The adults are gathering to mate after several solitary months as ground-dwelling larvae.

Scaling the grass.

[photographic location]