Cantharis fusca & Triticum aestivum
Exactly a month ago, in my post on botanical gardens, I made the promise to inform myself (and you) about one combination of plant & insect I am coming across. Thus, I think it is time to fulfill this promise even though I did not manage to visit the botanical garden in the mean time.
We stumbled across many individuals of this beetle species already on our hike on P23. However, we had no idea what kind of species it exactly is:
Last Friday, I finally managed to go outside again and did some macro photography. And, again, I saw multiple of these bugs in the grasses, weeds, and fields. It also felt like the first genuine summer evening: Warm air coated the landscape, undulating fields of barley stretched in golden rays, the city vanished behind endless rows of trees, and its inhabitants escaped the asphalt towards the deep blue bathing lake.
And I stood in the fields and waited. Waited for this bug, waited that it flies in front of my lens, and that I don’t miss to press the shutter. And then it came:
It is (presumably) a Cantharis fusca, a species within the family of Cantharidae, in English also known as soldier beetle or leatherwings. The last name refers to its soft body; this is also why it is called ‘Weichkäfer‘ in German. There are many different sister species and often they only differ by minuscule details, at least to the untrained eye. In Germany alone, there are 86 different described species; worldwide more than 4500 – for a single family of beetles! The diversity and complexity that nature creates can be mind-boggling. They are mostly colored red, black, or golden. A wonderful visual overview is given here.
The plant it was landing on seemed rather uninteresting; most of all because it is so common on the fields in our area. At least, that’s what I thought at first:
It’s simple wheat – isn’t it? By now, I am not even sure anymore. Wheat is one of the most cultivated crops and it is an important source of food in uncountably many countries. The first record of wheat seems to be around 9600 years BC. This means, today we are 2000(!) years closer to Abraham, the patriarch of several religions, than Abraham was to the first use of wheat. I find it difficult to comprehend such time scales. However, this also means that there are countless different cultivated wheat species by now, including Common wheat, Spelt (‘Dinkel’), Durum, Emmer, Einkorn (the wild form), and many many more. Genetically speaking, a large difference between these species is the number of copies of each chromosome they have in their cells. While humans and many animals are diploid (they have two copies), it’s rather common in plants to have even more than two copies of each chromosome – this is referred to as polyploidy. (It also makes our life more difficult when dealing with their DNA sequences; but more on that at a different time.) The wild form of wheat is also diploid, but the other species are mostly tetra- or hexaploid. I still think that what I photographed is the most common form Triticum aestivum, but there are several more detailed distinctions to be made within this species.
Also, all information here is pure speculation from dubious internet research, also see this post on information.