Tay Meadows Tidbit – Small Milkweed Bug

Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii)

I’ve been virtually offline for the last several days, related to the coincidence of blissfully warm weather and Easter weekend. A good deal of time has been spent outdoors, but working in the garden and walking about with my family. The camera hasn’t seen much activity, ironically, other than to capture all the mothy goodies that have been coming to my lights the last few days. The garden’s now mostly tidied (just need to clean up the mess I made on the lawn by raking all the stuff out, now), and with Easter over I’ll be back to my regular hiking routine, I expect.

These photos are from earlier last week, just as the weather was starting to warm up. Me and my camera went for a walk through the field looking for things to photograph. Not many insects were out and about just yet, but I did find these bugs prowling about in the dead grass. At first I thought they were box elder bugs, even going so far as to label this post as such. Then I looked up my post from a couple years ago about box elder bugs, and realized they weren’t, in fact, the same species. Well. I knew they weren’t the Large Milkweed Bug that’s on the cover of the Kaufman Guide to Insects, and didn’t spot it in the other bugs displayed in the KGI plates.

Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii)

I ended up finding it on BugGuide. It’s a Small Milkweed Bug, Lygaeus kalmii. It is in fact displayed in the KGI, but they illustrate a western specimen, which have white dots in that big black diamond at their rear, whereas eastern specimens do not. The diagnostic mark for telling them apart from other orange-red and black bugs seems to be this black heart-shaped patch on their shoulders and upper wings. They’re a fairly abundant species and active most of the year, as long as it’s warm enough. Their diet seems to be fairly fluid, with the bugs being scavengers or even predators of other insects in the early spring, then turning to nectar once flowers are available, and finally feasting on milkweed seeds once the pods develop in the fall. The adults overwinter, and are out early, as soon as the weather turns warm enough. They lay their eggs on young milkweed plants shortly after, and the nymphs develop over summer.


Author: Seabrooke

Author of Peterson Field Guide to Moths. #WriteOnCon Mastermind. Writer of action/thriller SF/F YA. Story junkie. Nature nut. Tea addict. Mother. Finding happiness in the little things. Twitter: @SeabrookeN / @SeabrookeLeckie

9 thoughts on “Tay Meadows Tidbit – Small Milkweed Bug”

  1. The really cool thing about milkweed bugs in general (large or small) is that they are highly toxic because of their diet of milkweed seeds. That also explains the bright red-orange markings, a universal insect signal that says “don’t eat me”. And I must admit I was looking for the white dots on the back–I’ve never seen the eastern form I guess!

  2. Very nice post. I will start looking for these bugs now and throughout the season. I have lots of milkweed so I imagine I have lots of these critters. — barbara

  3. Glad to see it’s continuing to warm and critters are continuing to make appearances. And this species is rather beautiful. I’ve seen the large variety and I’ve seen box elder bugs, but I’ve yet to see this one. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for that telltale heart.

  4. I was hoping someone on here would be able to help me. I am staying at the family ranch in northern Mexico and woke up with a blister on my neck that burned. I remember several years ago some of the locals said that a certain bug “pees” on you if you come in contact with it and it will burn and leave a blister. I saw this bug as they were talking about it, but am unable to find any info about it on the web because I have no idea what it is called. If I remember correctly, it was sort of triangular, with six legs, and blended well with the mesquite trees and dirt. It had sort of a camouflage design being dark grey and light brown. If anyone knows of this bug or knows where I can find a picture or name, please let me know. I want to be able to warn my niece and nephews. Thanks!

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