Most of us learned about the special relationship between monarch butterflies and milkweed plants when we were young children — and just about anytime I look in our garden, monarchs sail among the milkweed. Females lay eggs on the underside of leaves and monarchs of both genders sip the plant’s sweet nectar. But milkweed isn’t just for monarchs! It also provides a place for many other creatures: A few that are immune to its toxicity eat it; others drink its nectar, depend on it for reproduction, watch for a meal, or simply rest. Here’s a sampling of critters living in our backyard milkweed in early August. What’s in your milkweed patch??
The adult red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) eats milkweed leaves, buds and flowers. Its larvae eat the plant’s roots.
The Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) eats the seed pods, stems and leaves of milkweed.
A hover fly or flower fly (Syrphidae).
An eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) hunts for small insect pests to eat.
Honey bees (Apis millifera) favor the sweet milkweed nectar.
Bumble bees (Bombus) of several different species are attracted to milkweed blossoms.
A red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) sips milkweed nectar.
I never tire of seeing monarchs (Danaus plexippus) nectar on milkweed blossoms.
Insects aren’t the only critters to favor milkweed nectar. Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) frequently drink it, too.