Behold – the milkweed bug! If you see and orange and black bug in Florida… it may be this puppy:
|Photo by Rachel Goodman. I know, she’s better at it than I am. Dang it.
I’ve been growing “butterfly weed” (also known as “tropical milkweed,” or, most properly, as Asclepias curassavica) in my yard for a few years after finding one by the side of the road and transplanting it. I’m always amazed by how many insects flock to this toxic plant.
The thing I find most interesting is the common color scheme in the various predators and prey that pay this perennial a visit. Orange and black appears over and over again. The aphids that congregate on butterfly weed are invariably bright orange. The monarchs that feat on this plant are orange and black. The milkweed leaf beetle: orange and black. The milkweed assassin bug: yep, orange and black.
This plant is decorated for Halloween all year long.
As for the insect in the photo, that’s the “milkweed bug,” also known as Oncopeltus fasciatus. It’s not a directly useful garden insect, since it mostly just eats milkweed, but it does play the role of population control by keeping milkweed plants from taking over the world.
Since my primary focus is on growing food, I don’t spend much time growing ornamental plants; however, growing a mix of non-edibles with your edible plants creates a much wider ecosystem. What’s that mean? It means free pest control, butterflies, pollinators and lots of moments where you get to say “Hey… look at that cool bug!”
That’s got value right there. I mean, you can’t spend all your time eating, right? Might as well take pictures of a milkweed bug!