Thursday, September 13, 2012

Friend or Foe........Milkweed Bug

Nancy Ennis

Recently while working in the pollinator garden I observed orange and black insects in large clusters on several of the milkweed plants (asclepias). Thinking they were harmful, I snipped off the infested part of the plant. Later that morning, Kim and two 'pollinator experts' were touring the garden. When I questioned them about the insect they said that they were not harmful. Upon further investigation, this is what I found.

The insect is called a Small (or Large) Milkweed Bug. It is in the true bug (Hemiptera) order of bugs. True bugs have piercing-and-sucking mouthparts. The Milkweed Bug sucks nutrients from Milkweed seeds. Like the Monarch caterpillar, Milkweed Bugs are one of the few insects that can safely feed on the Milkweed plant. The toxins from the Milkweed give the Milkweed Bug and Monarch caterpillar a nasty taste to their predators. Unlike the Monarch caterpillar, with its voracious appetite, the Small Milkweed Bug will not strip the Milkweed plant of leaves but it can decimate the seedpod. So if you were interested in collecting seeds from the Milkweed plant then you would consider the Milkweed Bug a foe. If not, let it be.

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