Insects: Lygaeus kalmii, Small Milkweed bug

Lygaeus kalmii, Small Milkweed Bug, on unidentified flower in Garden #4, Flatbush, Brooklyn, NYC. Photos taken: July 3, 2006

I noticed this critter for the first time earlier this year. I'd never seen it before. The red and black markings are so striking, especially the black heart on the red back, I thought it should be well-known and easily identifiable.

I took some earlier, bad photos, but lucked out with these. Still not as crisp as I would like. It was difficult to photograph, since I had to get so close with the lens and it kept moving around. Guessing that it was in the Order Hemiptera, the "true bugs", I found some matching photos on Bug Guide, which identified it as Lygaeus kalmii, Small Milkweed Bug.

L. kalmii is in the Lygaeidae Family, the seed bugs. Milkweed bugs eat, incredibly, milkweed seeds. I've said the flowers above are "unidentified," since I simply scattered some extra seed in that spot in the garden this spring and didn't label it. But now that I think of it, I did have seed of some Ascelpias species, so this is probably one of them. Insects helping me identify what I planted in the garden ... I like that.

The black and red-orange coloration is shared among many species which feed on milkweed, including Monarch butterflies. It's a warning to predators, such as birds, that they taste bad, from concentrating bitter compounds from the milkweeds in their bodies.


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lisa said...

Hey...I have that bug, too! My ID was made by visiting the "What's That Bug" website, and doing a search of the beetle catagory. I thought he was rather pretty, even if he did take some good size bites from my milkweed plants. (I like to grow them to feed the monarch butterfly larvae.) Just goes to show that bugs are good "tech support" for gardeners...too bad we can't speak their lingo. No telling what they'd say!

Anonymous said...

I first discovered this bug in group of maybe twenty tiny, red, oblongs with six legs. They were feeding, by sucking through their
proboscis, on the fruiting body of the pearl milkvine in my backyard. I had milkvines in my front yard so I transplanted about half to the front where despite early casualties, they thrived, grew, by stages, into the pictured adult, and since have migrated to the several varieties of milkweeds in my yard. They only seem able to suck from the fruits, flower buds, and small stems. They never eat seeds or leaves here and appear to not have chewing mouthparts, only a sucker.