Monday, June 01, 2015

Bright and Toxic and Very Busy

Red Milkweed Beetles mating. Photo by Sally Kneidel, 2015

If you're looking for a pretty insect that's easy to photograph, check out Common Milkweed plants in spring and fall for Red Milkweed Beetles . Both times I've seem these red beetles in the last year, they were all busy mating and paid very little attention to me and my camera.  On both occasions I was actually looking for Monarchs and Monarch caterpillars on the milkweed to report to the website Journey North. I spotted a few Monarchs last fall but this spring I have found no Monarchs at all. Sadly.

The red beetles are in the family of longhorn beetles, Cyrambycidae -- notice the long antennae. Not to be confused with the much more common Milkweed Bugs, which are also red and black, but are not even beetles. Milkweed Bugs are in the order of true bugs, Hemiptera.

It's not a coincidence that Red Milkweed Beetles, Milkweed Bugs, and Monarchs all are red or orange, which are "warning" colors to birds and other predators, meaning do-not-eat-me-or-you'll-be-sorry. The Monarchs and Red Milkweed Beetles and Milkweed Bugs are toxic to predators because of toxic chemicals in the milkweed they eat.

I think you can see the spermatophore being transferred from the male to the female in this one, a ltttle brown orb. Sally Kneidel
I'll keep watching the milkweed for Monarchs. These unique butterflies that migrate farther than any other butterfly are declining because milkweed is declining.  The over-spraying of herbicides on genetically modified crops in the Midwest is a major reason for the demise of milkweed.   Check out this excellent article from Slate on that subject.  Monarchs need our help.  Plant milkweed!  The beetles will enjoy it too!

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