Good Bugs

Have you seen any red beetles on your milkweed? Wait before you send them to their watery death, these are the “good guys.”

 If you look carefully, long before the monarchs arrive you may see a spotted, long red beetle with curled black antennae. This is a red milkweed beetle. They may have black spots or pattern (not white spots, that’s a bad bug!)

The red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) There are different kinds of milkweed beetles, specializing in different types of milkweed; the red milkweed beetle prefers common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

A close up of a bug on a leafDescription automatically generated

Most species of insects try to camouflage themselves from predators, but since milkweeds are toxic to many predators, the milkweed beetles as consumers of milkweed, are also toxic to many predators. Pretty smart for an insect!

Native long-horned beetles, such as the red milkweed beetle, have a valuable place in our ecosystem and only  eat milkweed. They are not harmful to monarchs or harm monarch eggs or larvae, so we can all coexist quite happily.

Why add some native plants to your garden?

As you work on your gardens this summer and fall, planting native plants in our suburban/rural gardens can help sustain the biodiversity of our ecosystem. Native birds, bees, and insects are very choosy about their food source. If it is not available, the wildlife population diminishes.

For example, due to loss of habitat, there has been a 50% reduction in population for many of our bird species in the space of 50 years (Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home). But there is something we can do.

For example, penstemon flowers (native) can feed three species of bumble bees, five species of moths, and one hummingbird species. Talk about a workhorse! The popular butterfly bush?  Butterfly bushes benefit pollinators but only at one stage of their life cycle. The bush attracts butterflies because it provides copious nectar. However, butterflies need host plants on which to lay eggs and on which their caterpillars feed. Not a single native caterpillar eats Butterfly bush leaves. Butterfly bushes (not native) originate in China. (Spotlight Truth about butterfly bush).  What we plant in our gardens makes a difference for bees, birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects in our neighborhood. What’s not to like?

To learn more:  

Mass Pollinator Network, https://masspollinatornetwork.dreamhosters.com

Western MA Master Gardeners, https://www.wmmga.org