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.