Saturday, June 27, 2015

Milkweed beetle--possibly the cutest bug ever?

In our backyard we have milkweed bugs and milkweed beetles that live on our milkweed plants. Milkweed bugs are cool (click here for photos from a previous post), but Milkweed beetles are cute...and I'm talking puppy dog cute! Look at those long, droopy antenna and the sad, half-mast eyes. If they don't melt your heart, nothing will...

A Red Milkweed Beetle hides in common milkweed buds in our backyard.
Milkweed beetles are in the longhorn beetle family, which accounts for those long droopy "puppy-dog ears." And the half-mast eyes? They are an adaptation where the socket of the antenna actually bisects the compound eye, creating an upper and lower eye. The bug is often called a four-eyed beetle, and both the genus and species of its scientific name (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) means four eyes.

Old four-eyes! If you look above the antenna, you'll see a black spot that is actually the top half of the eye.
...and if all of that doesn't get you, they sing, literally, but it's more like a soft squeak. The first time I heard it was in June of 2011 at Shawnee State Park. Jenny Richards, who is the naturalist there, picked one up for Matty and me and let us listen. Amazing! The little beetle definitely made soft squeaky sounds. I didn't hear the fellow in my backyard singing. He was tucked in the flower and hiding out, so I didn't bother him.

This is the milkweed beetle Jenny picked up and got singing for Matty and me. I took this photo back in June 2011 at Shawnee State Park in the butterfly garden just outside the nature center.
...but just so we don't think this fellow is a little ball of fluff, look at those mouth parts. Milkweed beetles chew through leaves at the tip, cutting the veins "upstream" so not as much of the gluey, white latex gets on them. If the beetle does get latex on its mouthparts, it rubs its face against the leaf right away to remove the gooey mess, otherwise, the latex will glue its mouth shut. Yikes!

Although cute, the milkweed beetle has a nice set of chompers!
In early summer, females lay eggs at the base of the plant's stem, sometimes inserting them in the stem, or even on nearby grass. When the larvae (grubs) hatch out, they crawl down to find the roots, either by burrowing through the soil or through the outer layer of the stem. They live in the soil and feed on the roots through fall and then overwinter in the roots. They pupate in spring in little chambers they dig in the soil. It takes about a month for them to emerge as adults.

The milkweed beetles you see on your plant in early summer lived in the roots of the plant as grubs during the winter.
Milkweed plants are toxic, and since the beetles eat the leaves, buds and flowers, they are toxic as well, which makes them taste bad, so predators leave the very bright and noticeable insects alone (just like the monarch butterfly who also eats the leaves as a caterpillar). No need for camouflage for these critters. The bright orange and red color is a warning to predators to shy away.

...see you later, "Fido!"

For more information on the Red Milkweed Beetle, click here for an article by the Bug Lady at the University of Wisconsin.

For a quick look at insects that live on milkweeds, click here for a post by Restoring the Landscape with Native Plants.


Rick Forrestal said...

Okay, okay . . . he's a cutie.
AND, he's looking right at you!

(Is he sporting a moustache?)

P.S. Nice macro series.

Kelly said...

...hahaha! Look like it, doesn't it? Thanks, Rick.

Mary Ann Gieszelmann said...

I love it, Kelly! So much fun to find somebody else who waxes all eloquent and excited about bugs, snakes, and other creatures that so many people find repugnant.
And that little bug has super-stereo vision.

Kelly said...

It must be in our blood, Mary Ann! :-)

Midmarsh John said...

It does have a certain charm, Kelly.

Bobby Harrison said...

Great post Kelly. Informative, and really nice photos.

Tammie Lee said...

I AGREE, entirely cute!
how wonderful that you heard it sing!
when i was in NZ a man gave me a recording of crickets singing. there was the normal cricket sound we hear. But they had taken that song and slowed it down to where it sounds like voices singing a beautiful song. so it is layers of crickets voices at different speeds, so amazing to hear!

Spare Parts and Pics said...

Wow, these are seriously good macro shots!! Ya, I think this little guy is a cutie. We have a different species of milkweed beetle here (California) that isn't as cute.

sandy said...

that is one cute bug! Love your blog.

Janice K said...

That little guy really is very pretty. It's amazing what you see when you look at bugs up close. Pretty awesome. He'did me a cute pin (jewelry).

Kelly said...

@John - :-) I think so too, John. It's that little round head.....and the antenna....and the eyes...

@Bobby - Thanks, Bobby. :-)

@Tammie - very cool, Tammie. I've heard about the recordings of crickets slowed down to different speeds. I'd like to hear that one of these days! (If Jenny hadn't picked it up, I wouldn't have known it would make the little squeaky sounds...that was so cool.)

@Spare Parts - Thank you! I'll have to look your species up. I think I read something about a species further east (?) that has heart-shaped spots on its wings---that would be a true "love bug!" :-) . I need to look that up too.

@Sandy - Thank you, Sandy!! He's the cutest of the cute! :-)

@Janice - You're so right, Janice. Looking at bugs through the macro lens makes a huge difference. I love seeing all the details. They are beautiful and interesting. Thanks!