Short-Lived Milkweed Bugs in My Yard

The Garden is the Ultimate Backdrop for the Pursuit of Knowledge

The best teachers are those that raise questions that inspire students to scurry off in pursuit of the answer.  In that aspect, the garden is the ultimate professor.  Its backdrop of nature has so many varied activities occurring at once, that is it quite impossible to be aware of them all—much less fully understand.  That is indeed a humbling realization for even the most ardent of scholars to digest.

I once read that a tablespoon of soil contains more organisms than the total population of our planet—7.3 billion.  To attempt to contemplate the size of all the invisible worlds in the garden is an exercise that could take several lifetimes—indeed, if ever it could be accomplished by one human mind.

Just yesterday I found several bugs like the one shown in the photo above on a tropical milkweed in my yard.  My first reaction was to text Jane Stroud, one of the officers of our Loving Garland Green board.  As usual, she didn’t disappoint me.  In a few seconds I got her reply:

“Those are Milkweed Bugs! They suck the sap and sap from the seed pods. I squish.
Here's a link.

The site at the link shown above verified these are Milkweed bugs on my milkweed plants.  They feed exclusively on Milkweed seedpods.  They are nature’s answer to Roundup when it comes to ending the lifecycle of a milkweed plant.  The feeding activity of these bugs ends the life cycle of a milkweed plant. They suck the sap out of a milkweed seedpod.

However, I do not want to use pesticide to get rid of them because the same stuff (organic insecticidal soap or chemical) that kills these bugs will also kill a butterfly.  Going forward, I will do as Jane does and squash them. 


The One Step Further in Analyzing a Garden Problem—or any problem:

For the Lessons-Learned Folder, one should ask:  Why did I have this problem in the first place?  What is the root cause?  Why did these bugs show up on my milkweed plants in the first place?

Everything in nature’s complex but efficient design has a purpose.  So it is with the milkweed bugs.  As I mentioned before, the milkweed bug is nature’s answer for Roundup.  Milkweed can be invasive.  The milkweed bug’s duty is to keep this tendency in balance by destroying the seedpods of this plant so it is not able to reproduce.

My yard has an overabundance of milkweed.  Thus, here come the milkweed bugs to bring the ecosystem of my yard into its proper balance. The milkweed bugs can't help themselves. They are just following the guidance of what is natural. They cannot comprehend the larger world that has thrown nature out of balance with its over-use of herbicides and pesticides.

In the larger scheme of things, Roundup and other herbicides have done jobs far more efficiently than the milkweed bug.  According to many sources, these chemical products have just about decimated the population of naturally occurring milkweed in our country.  Thus milkweed butterflies (of which there are about 300 different species) have their existence threatened.  These species, which include the Monarch, deposit their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants.

As someone who practices the permaculture principles, it is with some reticence that I interrupt a natural process of nature to keep things in balance. Like my friend Jane, I squash the milkweed bugs.  I do this because in the larger scheme of things, there are still not enough milkweeds to provide this valuable habitat for butterflies to complete their life cycles by reproducing. When that day comes, I will stop the murderous rampages in my garden.


Sorry Milkweed Bugs, but in my yard, you lose.  Milkweed Butterfly host plants are too important to the food sources for human beings to not protect.

I am not by nature a bug squasher, but I do make exceptions.  There you have it.  The garden sometimes even poses moral dilemmas for the gardener.

Although some plant species rely on wind or water to transfer pollen from one flower to the next, the vast majority (almost 90%) of all plant species need the help of animals for this task. There are approximately 200,000 different species of animals around the world that act as pollinators. Of these, about 1,000 are vertebrates, such as birds, bats, and small mammals, and  the rest are invertebrates, including flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, and bees. [SOURCE:  Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wildlife Habitat Management Institute – Native Pollinators - - accessed 9/29/2015]

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