Foeniculum vulgare and Rhagonycha fulva

Ask most people about the various kinds of flower pollinators and the first responses you are likely to get are bees and butterflies. Beetles, however, are also important pollinating organisms. One site uses the figure of beetles contributing to the population of up to 88% of the world’s flowering plants (source: Beetle Pollinators via the USDA’s Pollinators site), though I haven’t been able to find a scientific reference to back up that number (and considering the number of exclusively bee-, butterfly-, moth-, bat-, wind- and water-pollinated plants, I find it a bit hard to believe). Beetle pollination is scientifically known as cantharophily, coincidentally named after the soldier beetle family, Cantharidae, to which the beetle in today’s photo belongs.

My observations, later verified upon researching, were that this beetle is an incidental pollinator. In its quest for seeking out small edible insects, the common red soldier beetle (photo in flight | Wikipedia) inserts its head into the diminutive flowers and brushes up against the anthers. Pollen sticks to the head of the beetle and is subsequently transferred to other flowers as it continues its grazing behaviour. In the span of ten minutes, I observed this beetle visiting approximately twenty flowers — quite a pace!

Rhagonycha fulva is often found on members of the Apiaceae, or umbel family, like the plant in today’s photograph: Foeniculum vulgare, or fennel (previously featured on BPotD here with a link to Gernot Katzer’s spice page on fennel). Interestingly, Gernot Katzer notes that it is not only the fruits of fennel that are used in cuisine; the pollen of fennel (aka “Spice of the Angels”) is a small-scale exotic (and expensive) herb crop in Italy and California. If only the beetles could be trained…

Lastly, thank you to both BugGuide and What’s That Bug? for enabling me to identify the beetle.

Foeniculum vulgare and Rhagonycha fulva

9 responses to “Foeniculum vulgare and Rhagonycha fulva”

  1. Beverley

    Foeniculum vulgare – Z5 – Griffiths
    Foeniculum vulgare – Z4-9 – A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Brickell, Cole, Zuk

  2. Dan McClosky

    Wow, great shot. It really conveys a sense of surface, sort of like a landscape of rolling hills or wheat fields. To the beetle, I guess these flowers are similarly a food source.

    What are the green arches? Leaves?

  3. Daniel Mosquin

    Yes, those are leaves (and thanks).

  4. bev

    Excellent photo and, as usual, very educational post. Do you think USDA may have meant 88% of insect-pollinated flowering plants, rather than all flowering plants? Who knows.

  5. Katherine

    What a great photo! I love soldier beetles!! Soldier beetles and their larvae are big aphid eaters, just like lady bugs. I have many more soldier beetles in my S.F. Bay Area yard than lady bugs. They are key players in my efforts to keep aphids under control with minimal pesticide usage.
    Interestingly enough, to my untrained eye, the soldier beetle and lady bug larvae are very similar in form.

  6. George L. in Vermont

    Great photo. Great bug. Delicious plant!
    Here’s another resource on wild pollinators:
    http://www.wildfarmalliance.org/resources/wfapollinatorbrief.pdf

  7. maureen

    wonderful photo, Daniel — of both the beetle and the plant. What atmosphere. I’d love an “office” like that one for my work. 😉

  8. Beatriz Moisset

    Thanks for bringing that mistake of 88% of flowering plants being pollinated by beetles to my attention. I will point it out to somebody in charge. It is certainly wrong.
    It is more likely that 88% of flowering plants are pollinated by insects (about 10% by wind or even water and roughly 2% by birds, bats, etc.)

  9. enas

    also it is in Yemen and came before the grape season and we called it grape messenger. children loves it and songs a special songs welcoming her.
    http://ar.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D8%A8%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A9_%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%86%D8%A8

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