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Saturday 24 August 2019

Cardinal Beetles take leisurely approach to prey

The brightly coloured Cardinal Beetle was particular plentiful on flowerheads this summer
The brightly coloured Cardinal Beetle was particular plentiful on flowerheads this summer

Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

It's been a good year for Cardinal Beetles with lots of them about earlier in the summer and a few stragglers still around.

The Cardinal Beetle is reddish-orange in colour. Some individuals are a deep rich colour reminiscent of the scarlet red of the skullcap and other headgear worn by cardinals in the Catholic Church, hence the common English name of the abundant insect.

Irish Cardinal Beetles are far from being adorned in rich scarlet or cardinal red; instead they are a pinkish-orange or brownish-orange in colour. That said, the colour is popularly called 'red'.

Like most beetles, the body is divided into three distinct regions. The beetle has six black legs and a pair of knobbly, toothed black antennae in front of its bulging black eyes. It has a red head and to distinguish it from black-headed species found in Britain, its full title is the Common Red-headed Cardinal Beetle.

Beetles have four wings. The front two are hardened and are used to protect the hind two, so they are called wing cases or wing covers. When the beetle flies it swings its front pair of wings, its wing cases, out ninety degrees and holds them rigid like the wings of a fixed-wing aircraft. It then unfurls its hind hair of wings and flaps them to get airborne and fly.

When it lands it carefully folds its hind wings along its back and swings in its wind cases in to close neatly as shown in the image above.

Cardinal Beetles are predators but instead of using lots of energy hunting down their prey they opt for a more leisurely approach. They fly to a flowerhead and lie in wait for dinner to come to them knowing that lots of other insects will be visiting the flower to collect or feed on pollen or to sip nectar. Any small insect that they are capable of overpowering is fair game and a reasonable target.

Earlier this summer, it was a common sight to see four or five Cardinal Beetles waiting for prey to arrive to a flowerhead like that of the large, saucer-shaped white flowers of roadside Hogweed. When both sexes were present it was also common to see mating pairs.

Though they are not thought to be poisonous, it is believed that the beetles' bright colour, like a red traffic light, may be an adaptation warning bird birds not to eat them.

The Argus

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