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Soldier beetles

Agronomist, Andrew Parr (Howard Martin & Co), has observed high numbers of grubs in a newly sown lucerne crop east of Finley, in the Riverina district of New South Wales. Some patchy feeding damage has been observed, including the odd plant that was completely chewed off at ground level. Mite and aphid populations were present a few weeks ago and the paddock was sprayed with chlorpyrifos to protect emerging seedlings. However, Andrew says high numbers of grubs persisted and could easily be found on the soil surface.

The grubs are about 10 mm in length, brown in colour, with 6 well-developed legs and prominent mouthparts. Research officer, Kym Perry (SARDI), has identified them as soldier beetle larvae. It is possible the grubs are larvae of the plague soldier beetle (Chauliognathus lugubris), which was present in extremely high numbers in large parts of News South Wales and Victoria earlier this year.

Plague soldier beetles are a native species that can form huge mating swarms. The adults are straight-sided beetles that are 10–20 mm in length. They are relatively soft bodied, with black wing-covers and a large black head. Importantly, the grubs are not plant feeding. In fact they are predaceous, feeding on insect eggs and soft-bodied pests such as aphids and caterpillars.

Spring is the peak time of the season for many beneficial insects, which can play a key role in pest control when low to moderate numbers of pests are present. Growers are encouraged to consider numbers of beneficial insects before deciding on control strategies.

For further information on beneficial insects likely to be encountered in broadacre crops and pastures, view the GRDC Back Pocket Guide – Beneficial Insects.

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