What Are Milkweed Bugs: Is Milkweed Bug Control Necessary

Milkweed Bug On A Leaf
milkweed bug
(Image credit: Gio1324)

A trip through the garden can be filled with discovery, especially in the spring and summer when new plants are constantly blooming and new visitors are coming and going. As more gardeners are embracing their insect neighbors, the reflex to smash anything with six or more legs is common, but sometimes it's hard to know if a bug is one of the good guys or the bad guys.

Milkweed bugs in the garden are among those with less clear-cut loyalties. Luckily, in most cases, the milkweed bug isn't anything to worry about. Whether you're looking for milkweed bug information or just asking yourself “What are milkweed bugs?” you've come to the right place.

There's not a lot to know about milkweed bugs. The larger of them are medium-sized insects, measuring 1/3 to 3/4 inch (1-2 cm) long, and the smaller only slightly so at 1/3 to 1/2 inch (1 cm) long. Both bugs feed exclusively on seeds produced by members of the milkweed family, posing little to no threat to cultivated gardens.

You'll know milkweed bugs by their striking red and black coloration and long, pointed bodies. Small milkweed bugs bear a large, red X-shape across their backs and have two thick, segmented antennae. They may have white spots on the ends of their wings. Large milkweed bugs appear to be red in color with two black diamonds separated by a black bar across their backs.

If you encounter either of these insects, don't panic. They don't bite, have no stingers, and don't carry disease.

Milkweed Bug Control

Unless you're a milkweed plant farmer, milkweed bugs in the garden don't require any type of control. They're generally considered a beneficial insect because their feeding activity can end the life cycle of milkweed plants. This helps to control the milkweed plant, which can be invasive but is also an important food source and breeding location for monarch butterflies.

In general, milkweed bugs help gardeners enjoy the milkweed plant and the butterflies that are attracted to them without having to worry that milkweed plant may overtake their garden.

If losing too many milkweed plants to milkweed bugs is a concern, keep in mind that adding any sort of pesticide will also damage the butterflies you're hoping to protect, so instead focus your efforts on picking milkweed bugs off of plants or blowing them off with your garden hose. Shrinking their numbers can be enough to allow both milkweed bugs and monarch butterflies to peacefully co-exist.

Kristi Waterworth

Kristi Waterworth was a regular contributor to Gardening Know How for many years, answering countless queries on plant pests and diseases.