This week my garden has been transformed into a den of inequity.
A couple of days past, I was peacefully walking through my garden, virtuous and wholesomely thinking only of the graceful lines of mature ornamental grasses and cherubic cement angels. Suddenly, I stumbled across a garden orgy sufficient to satisfy Caligula. Fornication! Out in the open and here among the flowers! What kind of brothel am I running?
I have a line of 'Matrona' sedum lining one of my beds, and on the flowers of those sedums were a writhing, panting mass of Goldenrod Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus), most of them in flagrante delicto and completely unaware of my voyeurism. I had an immediate flashback to a time over a decade ago when I was in Vancouver, Canada at a teaching seminar, exploring the famous Wreck Beach on my spare time, only to find out that the Wreck Beach was famous primarily for its clothing-optional section. At least the insects on my 'Matrona' weren't playing nude volleyball, an image still seared on my eyeballs now some 15 years later. One internet source noted that the insects mate "for extended periods on the flowers" although "the reason for their lengthy mating period is not certain." The source did note that females in the act of mating are less likely to be disturbed by wasps than single females. To that observation, I say "duh", because by my careful observation, what I presume is the male partner is always on top, his back exposed to the wasp, while the female hides protected underneath.
If these beetles were looking for goldenrod, their favorite food source, to homestead on, they are a little early in my garden, for most of the goldenrod hasn't bloomed yet. Perhaps they are just getting the essential act of procreation out of the way before gorging themselves and fattening for winter, not unlike other species that periodically visit my garden. More likely, they are just the insect equivalent of pubescent humans, driven into ill-considered acts by overactive glands. The next thing you know, they'll be riding giant insect roller coasters just to impress pretty girls (ask me about that story sometime...).
Goldenrod Soldier Beetles, also known as Pennsylvania leatherwings, are believed to be completely harmless to the flowers and in fact may participate in pollination. Their larvae are also predators of aphids and other soft-bellied insects. Several sources tell me the adult beetles secrete an anti-feedant, Z-dihydromatricaria acid, from 9 gland pairs on their abdomens, a defensive move to keep predatory jumping spiders away. Their presence in this bed of my roses is thus a positive occurrence and instead of being shocked, I should welcome and encourage all the intercourse that they want to have. I have concluded, therefore, that my best action is to allow them to continue their wanton behavior, averting my eyes from details of the promiscuous activity all around me with the tolerance of a saint among sinners.