Katlyn Catron earned a Master’s of Science from the Biology department at Virginia Tech studying aquatic ecology, and in the spring of 2017 joined the VIPR Lab as a PhD student. Her research now focuses on two native species of soldier beetle, the goldenrod soldier beetle, Chauliognathus pensylvanicus (DeGeer), and the margined soldier beetle, Chauliognathus marginatus F. Soldier beetle larvae are predacious mobile hunters of many other insects, while the adult beetles can be the principle pollinators of a wide variety of wildflowers. Although these beetles are prolific throughout Virginia, little is known about their ecology or the impact they have on the insect communities they are a part of.
Katlyn hopes to answer some essential questions about the phenology and life history of these two beetle species in Virginia, and to investigate if these insects could be utilized in an IPM strategy to help vegetable farmers control various pest insects attacking their crops. Starting with the basics, she hopes to learn what flowers the adults are attracted to, what they prefer to eat, where the adults prefer to lay eggs, and learn which time periods the adults are active. For the larvae, she hopes to learn which plants they frequent, which prey they prefer, when the larvae are active throughout the year, and most importantly how soldier beetle larvae interact with other insect communities, especially pest species.
Katlyn is planning on conducting observational studies consisting of documenting when these insects are active across all life stages and in what habitats they thrive. She aims to observe what the adults and larvae are eating as well as any other behaviors they exhibit related to their life history. She will be maintaining a colony of both species of soldier beetle to rear larvae for use in several different experiments which will be central to this study. Katlyn will be using cages to conduct simulated field studies to track larval movement and dispersal to better understand how these insects move from habitat to habitat and to understand how these larvae come across their prey. To determine prey preferences, a choice test will be conducted by giving individual larvae two different prey and recording which insect they feed on first. This will help to determine if the larvae have a preferred food source, or if they feed like a generalist predator without a preference at all. Finally, insecticide trials will be run to test how susceptible these larvae are to common insecticides and to determine if these insects can be used to supplement a more traditional pest control method.
Katlyn’s in-depth investigation of these common insects will serve as a critical step towards determining if soldier beetle larvae can be used as a natural enemy for certain pest groups, and therefore an IPM strategy. Hopefully soldier beetles can be used like lady bugs as a biocontrol method for certain pest species, ultimately augmenting or reducing traditional insecticide sprays. C. pensylvanicus and C. marginatus are two common yet understudied insects that may have a large ecological impact on insect communities they are a part of.