Sunday, November 8, 2009

Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus)

Saturday I went on a very exciting field trip with the Cincinnati Birding Club to Caesar Creek State Park in Warren County, Ohio. We saw some fabulous birds and the weather was perfect, but while searching for birds, I saw these Large Milkweed bugs...and they were close and immobile, and photographed infinitely better than the Common Loons, Hooded Mergansers....and American Bald Eagles I saw along the way (more on those pretties later)!

Large Milkweed Bugs on a Common Milkweed pod. One adult is at the top (he has wings), two fifth instars are at the bottom (they are nymphs, or immature versions of the Large Milkweed bugs--notice that they don't have usable wings yet.)

Milkweed bugs molt five times (nymphal instars) before they become adults. During these stages, the nymphs look similar to the adults except their color pattern is a little different and they do not have fully developed wings (during the middle instars black wing pads start to form, but they can not use their wings until they are adults--a great way to keep the kids at home and safe until they grow up).

Close-up of a middle instar. You can see the black wing pads. He's definitely not flying anywhere with those things! Eggs hatch in about a week if the temp is 75 degrees F or above. The bug goes through the five molts to become an adult in about a month! The adult then lives for about a month.

Three adult Large Milkweed Bugs and two instars.

At the tip of the Milkweed pod a group of adults are massing together to form a color warning to birds and other predators.

This behavior is thought to amplify the Milkweed bug's ability to broadcast a color warning. Since Milkweed bugs eat milkweed, which is toxic, they do not taste good. A young bird will think twice before downing another orange and black bug the second time it comes across one...and a great big mass of orange and black is a big warning to stay away! This is the same sort of protection Monarch butterflies receive because as caterpillars they too feed on Common Milkweed. Click here for an older post explaining how Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies and Monarch butterflies receive the same protection (and for a look at how beautiful Common Milkweed is as a flower in the summer).

I love how delicate their legs look against the silk of the milkweed seeds.

What do we have here? At first I thought it was a different bug, but if you look closely, you can see it's an adult with abnormally developed wings. For some reason they have shriveled and dried up. Perhaps on his final molt he was not able to pump hemolymph (bug blood) through the veins in his wings to unfurl them. I don't know...

Another view of our adult Milkweed bug's shriveled wings.

You can see how different the Large Milkweed bug looks without wings to cover his body.

41 comments:

Jain said...

Informative post and beautiful photos, Kelly!

Gabrielle said...

Very cool! The milkweed bugs remind me a lot of the box elder bugs I've been seeing so much of here. I wonder if they are related... (I will go consult Google)

Bill S. said...

Very interesting post. Pictures are also very informative.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

I can just see you standing there taking picture after picture after picture of those bugs... Me???? I'm not much of a bug person ---so all I would do is SHIVER when seeing them. HA HA

You did get some great shots...

Can't wait to see more of the 'pretties'.
Hugs,
Betsy

Kelly said...

...thank you, Jain!!

Gabrielle...let us know. I seem to spend my life consulting Google and reading field guides!

Bill...thank you. These bugs were mesmerizing. There was a chill in the air at 47 degrees (7:30 a.m.), so the bugs were very slow moving. A sharp breeze was coming off the lake, which set me to shivering as I was dressed for 65 degree weather. I'm lucky any of the shots turned out with my hands shaking!!

Betsy......only one other person on the trip was into bugs. Another woman hung out and studied them with me. She knew a lot about the bugs. The boys all ran ahead with no interest in the little critters. ---the American Bald Eagle took my breath away....

holdingmoments said...

Fascinating post Kelly, and excellent pictures too.

Emma Anderson said...

This was a fascinating read with most interesting documentary pictures.

Sue said...

So you had bug flash cards too?
:D

Your bird cards were different from mine, but very interesting. I know my mom saved them, but my brother either took them or disposed of them. Sigh.

Greener Bangalore said...

my goodness....i surrender....nothing more to say.....!

Chris Petrak said...

A fascinating series & an angle on milkweed I haven't seen. Thanks.

Steve Willson said...

These are some really nice shots. I raised thousands of these bugs as part of an animal behavior study when I attended OSU. The interactions between the different members of the group can be fascinating.

Busy Bee Suz said...

Wow...what great close ups and information!!! I can't wait to see the other 'pretties'!!!

NCmountainwoman said...

Wow! I've never seen those before. Great photographs.

Kelly said...

Keith...thank you, sir!

Hi Emma! Thank you!

Greener...you're so nice...thanks!

Chris...thank you. The pictures are cool, but in person, it's really amazing. I was just photographing milkweed when I came to this one and wow...the color, the numbers of bugs. It was exciting.

Steve...Thanks! If anyone would know about these bugs, you would!! That is so interesting. Did you find many with the wing problem? I wonder if it's a common defect. I wonder if exposure to insecticide causes problems...

Suz....If I can find the time, I'm going to try to paint a few of them! Thank you!

Mountainwoman....Thank you! If you head out into a field and find some milkweed you might. I was in the field for 7.5 hours on Sat and saw many stands of milkweed, but this was the only stand with the milkweed bugs, so you might have to search a bit....

Robin said...

What great photos!

The Early Birder said...

Very informative Kelly but careful they will be calling you the 'Bug Lady' next..only kidding. FAB

Steve Willson said...

The bugs I raised showed many defects, especially when the populations became really dense. Most were either due to low humidity causing molting problems or disturbance by the other bugs during molting. The most common defects were lost wings, odd shaped wings, lost antenna, and lost legs or feet. Many bugs just couldn't get detached from their old skin.

Warren Baker said...

Fascinating little creatures Kelly. Nicely photographed.

Andy Wilson said...

So that's the name of those bugs so wonderfully captured.

Kelly said...

Thanks, Robin!

Frank...haha...Bug Lady, Bird Lady...you can call me anything (...just don't call me late for dinner....). :-)

Steve....thanks! That is interesting. Low humidity makes sense. It must have been rewarding studying and charting everything. Although a heck of a lot of work too.

Thanks, Warren! :-)

Kelly said...

Andy...thank you!! I like bugs that are named for the plant they hang out on!

oldcrow61 said...

Wonderful shots. What beautiful bugs.

Jenny said...

Brilliant post Kelly. Lovely sharp photos and really interesting info about the bugs. I'm glad someone stayed behind with you. It's hard to photograph when with a group I've found. Like Betsy, I'm looking forward to the other beauties! (-:

Gabrielle said...

I'm back - turns out my National Audubon Society Insect Field Guide had the answer - although milkweed bugs and box elder bugs are both in the True Bug family, milkweed bugs are in the Seed Bug family (Lygaeidae) and box elder bugs are in the Scentless Plant Bug family (Rhopalidae). I also found out this interesting tidbit - apparently, it is only the box elder bug females that overwinter.

I'm such a nature nerd :-)

Elaine said...

Beautiful photos and very interesting. Sometimes you just have to look down at the small critters. They can be really spectacular when you photograph them and enlarge them.

Appalachian Lady said...

Wonderful photos--I'm tossing my milkweed bug photos away! Yours are way better. I especially like your detailed descriptions of all the stages. Most people would think they are different bugs.

Laubaine said...

magnifique , je n'ai jamais vu les meme chez moi , j'aime beaucoup
cet insecte et ses couleurs

Chris said...

Hi Kelly,
This is a very nice documentary with beautiful pictures... Well done although you probably know I would have like to see the common loon and merganser shots ;-)

Tony Morris said...

Great pictures of a really good looking bug, nice blog,I've added your link.
Tony

NatureFootstep said...

a lot of bugs. We have some like that here also, but they sleep now I guess. We did not have much frost. Mostly wet and heavy clouds. So, I miss the frost too.

Heather said...

Good stuff here, girl. Thanks for sharing these close-up looks and the buggy info.

Cindy said...

Interesting little bugs. I don't like bugs but they're very colorful. We have a Milkweed plant in the front flowerbed. I haven't noticed any of these critters on it.

Great photos by the way.

Chad said...

Very cool post. I have found that taking pics of insects can be pretty fun. I don't have a great camera but it does take great super macro shots - and insects make great pictures! Very interesting critter.

yen said...

fantastic macro shots.

Mary said...

I always think they are so interesting when they are in a huge mass on a pod. Assorted sizes and color patterns. Lots of useful information here!

Allison said...

Kelly, I am laughing because my son is going "ewwww!!!" he used to love bugs until we had a recent ladybug infestation--and now he is not a fan. Great pics~

Linda McGeary said...

Hi Kelly, I've kind of been out of it for a while. My sister, who I was trying to get moved up here to Bend, died two weeks before the planned move, and I've been doing a lot of executor business.
I just read the last months worth of your posts to catch up. I don't know were you find the time, you must be inventing it new just for all the new project and interests you have.
I love the house picture. My Mother-in-law was a master gardener and that type of picture always makes me think of her, Libby.
I so enjoy your blog.
Linda

Hilke Breder said...

Kelly, you have opened my eyes to the beauty of these bugs. I was fascinated by the wingpads on the instars.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Love their color on the fading pods. My field is full of them, also. And, although they've been progressing all summer, it's only now, as everything else around is withering and fading the gray, that I really notice them. Thanks for the info.

Kelly said...

OldCrow...thanks. They are gorgeous especially in the sun...so colorful when the surrounding vegetation is beige and brown...(always love your icon!).

Jenny...thank you! It is hard to photograph when with a group. I'm a lingerer....not as much a lister, so I like to stay and study not nab and move (and these weren't even birds!).

Garielle...cool info!! Thanks for the research. A lot of people complain about being called a nature nerd or a bird nerd, but I would love to be called that because it would mean I knew my stuff!

Elaine...so true. These critters shouted out to me, especially when I found them through the lens. I was scanning with the lens to find that perfect "feel" of a shot, and about fell over when that big group of orange and black milkweed bugs came into view. Very exciting...

Appalachian Lady...Thank you! I doubt mine are way better, and you had better not toss them. I bet they are great. I'm going to drop over. I at first thought they were different bugs, but I remembered reading about instars, then I researched them when I got home. The sites I listed have wonderful info on them.

Laubaine...Thank you!

Chris...I too. My shots of the loons are nothing like yours. We were so far out. I'm going to try to paint a watercolor of them.....that will help so much. You would have loved seeing the Bald Eagle...it was magnificent.

Tony...thank you Tony!! I'm heading over to your blog to check it out.

Nature Footstep...our bug activity is diminishing too, but our temps are abnormally warm. These guys were loving it!

Heather...thank you. You know how I love to research! All you have to do is go out in the woods for a couple hours and you learn something. I love that!

Cindy...thanks!! I like bugs that don't bite, sting or try to live on me! :-D I've really gotten interested in them. They are beautiful when you look closely!

Chad...I'm with you. Finding cool bugs and photographing them is fun. I'm still using my 200mm with the 2x extender and just zooming in. I need the macro lens to really get in close.

yen...thank you very much!!

Mary...thank you! I can't wait until I stumble across another bunch to study. This was the only group of them and I saw lots of milkweed stands.

Allison...ahhhhhh....I can so hear you little boy saying that!! Poor thing. We had a lady bug invasion about 15 years ago. Matty shys away from them because to him they smell so bad if they get squished. Always glad when you drop by!!

Linda.....please accept my condolences. My grandmother died of Alzheimer's and it's a very sad process. I hope you continue to heal....it took me a very long time.
Thank you. I've actually been running out of time that past month or so and I'm far behind on visiting blogs and posting all my stuff. I have like 10 ideas in the pipeline, and I don't know how I'll get them all posted.

Hilke...thank you! I was fascinated by the wingpads too. Actually.....I just liked saying the word "wingpad." It perfectly fits those little pre-wings in the instars.

Nina...I've photographed milkweed all summer, but just like you, it's the fall when they burst open and the seeds slowly peel away and float on the currents that I fall in love with them. The beiges and browns are beautiful and friendly even.....something to get lost in at as everything fades and the temps drop.

Marvin said...

A very informative post illustrated with some great photos. Having the milkweed seeds to include in your photos provided even more visual interest.