Who Eats Milkweed?

If you ask kids that question they might answer, “Monarch Caterpillars.”  And they’d be right.  But there are many more critters that eat milkweed, too!  I haven’t seen a Monarch yet this year, though friends around the area are reporting them already.  I have seen another milkweed muncher:
Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle
Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis).  In late spring, after the milkweed is up, adults begin crawling up out of the leaf litter where they overwintered.  They will feed on milkweed leaves and flowers, and they will mate.  Eggs will be cemented to the underside of milkweed leaves.  Swamp Milkweed is preferred, but they can sometimes be found on Common Milkweed as well.

Milkweed Beetle EggsIn mid-summer, you may not see many adults.  Those that overwintered will die soon after laying eggs.  I have never found the eggs of this beetle.  I did a Google search to see if anyone had posted a photo of some, so I would know what to look for.  Aren’t they pretty?  I’ll search today while out on my Dragonfly Hunt.  I can multi-task! (By the way, be sure to click on that picture of the eggs to see the amazing series of photos taken by Wayne.)

Milkweed Beetle LarvaeWhen the larvae emerge, they look nothing like the adult beetle.  They also eat milkweed leaves and flowers.  This photo is from the Cornell Entomology department.  I haven’t seen larvae yet this season.

Larvae will drop to the ground to pupate.  In late summer, adults will emerge and you should find them chowing down on milkweed plants again.

In case you want to go hunting for this pretty beetle, too, here’s a picture of Swamp Milkweed that I took last summer.  Oh look!  There’s another species crawling all over it… Hmmm… That will have to be a lesson for another day!

Milkweed Bug Larvae on Swamp Milkweed

18 thoughts on “Who Eats Milkweed?

  1. Pingback: Summer is Pink and Yellow « A Passion for Nature

  2. Do you know if birds like milkweed? I am doing a science fair project on the plant and am wondering if you think that birds dislike milkweed.

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  4. I am wondering if squirrels are chewing the stalks of my milkweed. I have seen them in my garden & don’t see caterpillars on the milkweed! I have plenty of flowers & leaves on the plants too !!

  5. I don’t have any bugs or catapillars on my milkweed. But I think that maybe squirrels are chewing the stalks of my milkweed !! I see squirrels in my garden. And I have plenty of leaves & flowers on my milkweed.

    • I have the same squirrel problem (and maybe rats/mice as well). There is a garden full of different types of milkweed, all the caterpillars are gone suddenly (so something is eating them as well), and the leaves AND flowers are all disappearing from the milkweed.

      • Yellow bugs called (achids), black and red bugs called ( milkweed bugs) and monarch caterpillars eat the milkweed. I kill everything but the caterpillars that are on the milkweed. I have done my research on these precious creatures ( monarch’s!)
        I have had to bring the caterpillars in to raise them since the wasps and gecho’s eat them ( they disappear if you leave outside !) I have looked all this up on youtube ( very helpful !)
        I have also gotten bird seed for the squirrel, since they seem to eat all the beautiful morning glories we have growing on the fence.

  6. In Science we are learning about ‘milkweed bugs’ who in the wild use proboscis’ to suck nutrients from milkweed and lay eggs in the fluff. But in our classroom they suck nutrients from sunflower seeds.

  7. Hello, I planted 10 milkweed plants (common milkweed) and something came along and ate all of them, down to the ground! What could it be? They were quite good size, about 14 inches high. Now all they are are little nubs, some at ground level, some about an inch tall. 😦

    • I did a quick google search and learned from more than one garden forum that deer, rabbits, and groundhogs will eat young milkweed plants. The forums had ideas for keeping these herbivores out of the garden. I encourage you to seek advice from fellow gardeners! Since milkweed is a perennial, there is a chance it will grow back, if the root system was strong enough. Good luck!

    • Hi , This same thing started last year , my milkweed eaten down to nothing . I put up a night camera , next morning , turns out to be a rat . My california native milkweed , snowy , more of the same . I am retired now . I am going to get to the bottom of this problem , on maybe a field project of some kind ! Does not help our butteries ! danny

      • I have experienced the same thing, and suspect rats also. They have stripped the tropical milkweed plants of all leaves flowers and stems down to a half inch. Now they have moved on to the Syrica milkweed. Never seen this before in Memphis TN. Let me know of your project on this forum if you can.

      • Hi Cameron , Living in Southern California , The fruit rat , very big problem here .I have been scratching my head dealing with milkweed on my property . I have seen my fresh plants , grown from seed in the greenhouse only being put outside eaten down to nothing in a night ! I have a 10ft X 12ft greenhouse i built to last for 100 years , built heavy duty , with all the right stuff . I have been into butterflies for a very long time . Now , only for milkweed i am building a milkweed cage 8ft X 3ft X 8ft high with three shelves , & 1/2″ hardware cloth , to store small native california milkweed that been started in the greenhouse. My other host plants —-No Problem with rats ! . Milkweed is toxic to most everything except those rats !
        Of course the Monarchs must have been having this problem from day one .Only the last 2+ years for me . Before that i didn’t notice it .My night camera caught it a few years back . I have a pond , stream ,koi that attracts the unwanted , rats included . I grow many different California host plants and give them away on Arbor day , and other events in my area at different times of the year . This milkweed problem is backing me up a bit , but Im trying to win , but spending more money . The Monarchs are worth it . When they fly by , i am always in awe . Danny

  8. In the late spring and early summer when the Milkweed in my yard is sprouting up and the leaves are full, but before any of them flower, I get hoards of beetles called “Rose chafer that eat the pulpy part of the leaves between the veins and leave them looking skeletal. I trim away the decimated leaves and the milkweed bounces back pretty good with new leaves by the time these pests move on. However, this morning (July 9th). I looked out my window and was shocked to see a Rose breasted Grosbeak eating the flowers on one of my milkweed plants! I watched closely to make sure it wasn’t just plucking off bugs or seeds. It was actually plucking off the actual flower buds! Has anyone else ever seen this? As Milkweed is toxic to many animals and the Monarch cats and other bugs that do eat the milkweed are toxic to many (not all) predator birds, I was surprised to see a bird actually eating the flowers of the plant.

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