Red Milkweed Beetle

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

June 24, 2011

The cardiac glycosides in milkweed are fairly potent toxins, and the insects that eat milkweed become, in turn, toxic. Such insects are often colored in bright red or orange to advertise that fact.

I spend a lot of time checking out milkweed for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars, which are famous for being one of the few critters that can dine on milkweed with impunity.

Red Milkweed Beetle, (Tetraopes tetraopthalmus)

Red Milkweed Beetle

However, there are other insects that eat milkweed—including the appropriately named Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetraopthalmus). Red Milkweed Beetles are, in fact, quite red, and they do, in fact, spend almost their entire lives on milkweed.

About the time that milkweed buds are swelling and beginning to flower, these small black-dotted red beetles will emerge and set about the primary mission of living, generally searching through the upper leaves and buds for “companionship.” Once the appropriate willing companion has been found and the mission accomplished, the female will lay her eggs on the stem, at or below ground level.

Once Junior hatches, he, she, or it will bore into the stem and feed, finally boring down into the roots to spend the winter. Come spring, the beetle-to-be will pupate, then emerge in early summer to start the cycle anew.

The life of insects is lavishly efficient. You expect something amazing from a life lived in such bold colors, yet the reality is a small life, much restricted in its wheres and whens.

Buy  Beetles : A Field Guide to the Beetles of North America

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4 Responses

  1. Love these little guys. I’ve found they’ll play dead and drop to the ground when startled. I always put them back.
    Hey, you need an “Older Post” and “Newer Post” link at the bottom of each post (this is a blog, right? Oh, wait. It’s Notes.) so a surfing naturalist can smoothly go from wave to wave. Just sayin’.

  2. Dianne Rowse said:

    If you hold a red milkweed beetle up to your ear, you’ll hear it “talk”! It makes sounds with its mandibles. Fun to share with kids!

  3. Jasmine said:

    Wow. Cool. I accenently colected one during a milkweed bug project and he played dead and squeeked. 0_0

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