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Don't be dissin' on those beetles quite yet

I found a new flying beast invading my garden this weekend, and I don’t quite know what to do about them. These beetle-looking things are swarming some plants (unfortunately I don’t know the plant names because they were planted by the building contractor and not myself), and I’m afraid they are going to eat my garden to death. Instead of further describing these bugs, here are two of them that I caught. What are they and what should I do about them?

— M.C., Medford

Well, M.C., we have been charged with delivering answers to thousands of imponderables over the years, but this is the first time we have received two living visual aids to help us solve your case.

And that made it very easy for us to march these not-so-creepy (hey, they were in a Ziploc bag) crawlies to the Oregon State University Extension Service in Jackson County to get the straight dope on your flying invaders.

Turns out, you not only don’t need to kill ‘em, you might consider putting them on the payroll.

That swarm is a squadron of soldier beetles, and they are poised to wage war against little buggers that really do threaten your roses.

“These are absolutely wonderful for getting rid of aphids and other soft-bodied pests,” says Marsha Waite, who teaches entomology at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center off Hanley Road.

These beetles as adults are about a half-inch long, with reddish bodies, black wings and long antennae. They look a lot like lightning bugs without the lightning.

Soldier beetles were so-named because their color pattern is similar to the red coats of early British soldiers, and they are also known as leatherwings.

The adults love eating aphids and are considered important predators, so resist the urge to hose them down or gas these soldiers.

Gardening books say they are considered a valued pollinator that don’t bite or sting humans.

“When I first moved here from Wisconsin, I thought they were eating my roses,” Waite says. “I zapped a few before I realized, oh, no!”

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.