You Are What You Eat

If the adage holds true, then if you eat poison, you are poison.

Small milkweed bugs eat mainly milkweed plants whose sap contains poisons and latex. Decorating yourself with bright colours lets potential “diners” know they best choose another item on the menu if they don’t want to get sick.

The bug’s colours are quite distinctive — the white spots on the black wing tips caught my attention first. Sort of like eye sockets in a skull. Also noticeable is the orangey-red “X” on its back that doesn’t quite meet in the middle.

I found this bug sleeping on a globemallow leaf one cool morning recently. Nearby was a rambling milkweed plant, leafless and flowerless, its numerous thin stems twisted around each other like a rope. Little shelter for a bug overnight so perhaps that’s why it climbed onto something more substantial.

Milkweed bugs are true bugs (not beetles) with piercing/sucking mouthparts. Milkweed sap contains latex (a whitish gum-like goo) and poisons. The bug pierces the “skin” of the plants to reach the poisonous sap. Once it removes its mouthparts, the latex oozes into the hole where it dries, effectively sealing the hole. Such a tidy eater.

Small milkweed bug  (aka Seed bug)  Lygaeus kalmii
Globemallow   Sphaeralcea spp.


2 thoughts on “You Are What You Eat

  1. You sent me on a search for my photos of a milkweed pod covered with milkweed bugs in every stage of development — from adult down to tiny. When I found them, I looked and looked, but I think yours might be a different species. I’m slowly coming to appreciate that similar and the same are two very different things! I think yours are very handsome with those white spots, and you certainly did a nice job with the photo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, such lovely words to start my day. I’ve never seen milkweed bugs before so this was a treat. This species is apparently quite widespread across the US and an occasional visitor to Canada. Eastern Boxelder bugs and large milkweed bugs are sort-of lookalikes. (I haven’t seen those either but there is a slight resemblance going by photos.)


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