I recently photographed some colorful milkweed bugs in my garden and decided to repost a small piece I had previously posted about these gorgeous gregarious insects with the new photos, figuring most of you didn’t read the original essay, and would absolutely love to learn more about these charismatic insects. The large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, is a common inhabitant of the milkweed patch. These insects concentrate cardiac glycosides in their tissues, similar to monarch caterpillars and butterflies, and advertise their toxicity with bright red and black coloration. The large milkweed bug feeds collectively on the immature milkweed seeds while they are still in the pods. With their sucking mouthparts, they inject enzymes into the developing seeds, which liquefies and predigests the contents until it is ready to slurp up.
Interestingly, this species is so easy to rear in the lab, that it is the insect equivalent to the lab rat, with countless experiments being performed throughout the land. I even found a scholarly article on milkweed bug husbandry!
Butterflyweed -Asclepias tubersoa seeds, note the wee milkweed seed bugs hiding in the pod
Butterflyweed flowerAsclepias tuberosa
large milweed bug with an immature instar on butterflyweed
Large milkweed bugs in love, wearing pollinia
Notice the yellow do-dads hanging off the feet of these lovebird milkweed bugs. These are masses of pollen, called pollinia. Pollinia are produced in lieu of loose pollen in certain plant families, such as the Orchid (Orchidaceae) and Apocynaceae (Dogbane and Milkweed family). These plants put all their eggs in one basket, by massing copious amounts of pollen in one masse, the pollinium.
Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
Honk if you love large milkweed seed bugs!
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