Milkweed bugs are my favorite bugs. Maybe you have seen them in your yard. They are red and gray with a black circle on their backs. The circle has two white dots, side by side in its center. They are oval shaped, with short antennae, and small, round eyes. Did you know milkweed bugs have wings, and are able to fly? The first time I saw a milkweed bug fly, I didn’t know what it was, and it scared me a little.
Milkweed bugs, and similar looking bugs called box elder beetles flap their wings like a gray blur, while their red bodies sort of hang down, which was what scared me. I thought it was some kind of stinging insect. They do not bite or sting. Milkweed bugs eat the sap of milkweed plants, which is poisonous. As a result, milkweed bugs are filled with poison, but they are only harmful to birds. This prevents the bugs from being food for the birds.
Milkweed bugs have three stages: egg, nymph and adult. In my science class we built milkweed bug habitats and witnessed the bugs reach each stage of life. The eggs are very small and light yellow, changing to red before they hatch. At first, the bugs are small, red, and round with black antennae. As they go through the nymph stage they get longer and larger. They “molt” or shed their exoskeleton so they can grow. They double in size within a few minutes. The first markings they develop are black, saddleshaped markings and two small black dots. As the nymphs get larger, the dots get larger too. Then a third dot develops and the milkweed bugs are fully grown.
There are two different kinds of milkweed bugs, large and small. As the name would suggest, the large milkweed bugs are bigger than the small milkweed bugs. Large milkweed bugs get as long as 3/4 of an inch, while small milkweed bugs are only 1/2 of an inch. Small milkweed bugs are noticeable in warm areas, like Arizona, all year round. If the area is generally colder, they will only appear from spring to fall.
Milkweed bugs eat milkweed plants, but milkweed bugs in my yard seem to like a particular kind of weed. Rather than pull the weeds out, we kept them in for the benefit of these cool bugs. Next time you go out into your yard, look for milkweed bugs! You might even get to see one fly!