Milkweed, a type of plant native to North America, plays a significant role in the survival of many insect species. In particular, over 450 species of insects rely on milkweed for their survival, either by feeding on it or using it as a habitat. In this discussion, we will explore some of the commonly known insects that use milkweed, as well as the reasons why milkweed is so essential to their existence.
Milkweed and Its Importance to Insects
Milkweed is a vital plant for various insects, including butterflies, moths, and beetles. It is the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on and serves as a food source for their larvae. Moreover, milkweed contains a chemical called Cardenolides, which is toxic to many animals but not to insects that have adapted to it. Therefore, it provides a natural defense mechanism for insects that feed on it.
The Monarch Butterfly and Its Relationship with Milkweed
The monarch butterfly is one of the most well-known insects that use milkweed. Without milkweed, the monarch butterfly would not exist. It is the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on, and it is the sole food source for their larvae. The monarch butterfly’s survival is entirely dependent on milkweed.
Other Butterflies That Use Milkweed
Butterflies such as the queen butterfly, soldier butterfly, and gray hairstreak also lay their eggs on milkweed. Their larvae feed on the leaves, and the flowers provide nectar for adult butterflies. The milkweed plant is essential to their survival and a critical factor in maintaining their populations.
Other Insects That Use Milkweed
Apart from butterflies, several other insects use milkweed as their primary food source or a place to lay their eggs.
Milkweed Tussock Moth
The milkweed tussock moth is a yellow and black caterpillar that feeds on milkweed. The caterpillar’s bright colors warn predators of its toxicity, thanks to the Cardenolides found in milkweed. The milkweed tussock moth‘s adult form is a white moth with black spots that feed on nectar from various flowers.
Milkweed beetles are small, bright orange and black beetles that feed on milkweed. They lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves, and their larvae feed on the leaves. Milkweed beetles are also toxic due to the Cardenolides found in milkweed.
Milkweed bugs are a type of true bug that feed on milkweed seeds. They use their long proboscis to pierce the seed pods and suck out the seeds’ nutrients. Milkweed bugs are also toxic due to the Cardenolides found in milkweed.
Milkweed Longhorn Beetles
Milkweed longhorn beetles are a type of longhorn beetle that feed on milkweed. They lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves, and their larvae feed on the leaves. Milkweed longhorn beetles are also toxic due to the Cardenolides found in milkweed.
Monarch butterflies are susceptible to various parasites that use milkweed for their life cycle. One example is the tachinid fly, which lays its eggs on the monarch butterfly’s body. The fly’s larvae then burrow into the butterfly’s body and feed on its tissues, eventually killing it.
FAQs for What Insects use Milkweed
What is milkweed?
Milkweed is a plant with a unique range of characteristics. It is native to North America and is so named because it secretes a milky sap when its leaves are broken. Milkweed has a bitter taste and toxic sap, which makes it unpalatable to most animals, but it attracts insects that feed on it, lay their eggs on it, and use it as a host plant.
What insects use milkweed?
Milkweed is best known for its attraction to Monarch butterflies, which lay their eggs on the leaves and rely on the plant as a food source. However, many other insects also use milkweed. These include beetles, moths, bees, and wasps. Some of them feed on the leaves, others on the nectar, and others on the flowers. Milkweed is also a host plant for some species of lacewings and aphids that use it as a shelter.
Can milkweed attract beneficial insects?
Yes, milkweed can attract beneficial insects as well as pests. Bees and other pollinators are among the beneficial insects that visit milkweed flowers for nectar. These insects are essential for the pollination of many crops and wild plants. Some predatory insects, such as ladybugs and assassin bugs, also feed on pests that use milkweed, such as aphids, caterpillars, and beetles.
Why is milkweed important for monarch butterflies?
Monarchs are dependent on milkweed for their survival. Female monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed leaves, and the larvae feed exclusively on milkweed. By consuming milkweed, the caterpillars accumulate toxins called cardenolides, which make them unpalatable to predators. The monarch butterfly’s dependence on one host plant makes it vulnerable to habitat loss and pesticide use, which have contributed to a decline in their populations.
What are some native milkweed species in the US?
There are over 100 species of milkweed in North America, but some of the most common native species include common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), and showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). It is important to note that some non-native milkweed species have also been introduced to North America, which can have negative effects on the monarch butterfly’s migration patterns and reproduction.