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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Milkweed - For More Than Monarch Butterflies

Planting milkweed is a one of the many ways you can help the monarch butterfly. Milkweed is the sole host plant to the monarch butterfly's caterpillar, but keeping milkweed as part of our landscape is important to more than just monarch butterflies. Here some species that also use milkweed in various ways. 

What Feeds on Milkweed Nectar? 


  • Bumblebees (Bombus spp.)  - these are one of the few native social bees, although their colonies are much smaller than those of the non-native honeybee; and only the queen overwinters.
  • Carpenter bees - Carpenter bees resemble bumble bees, but the upper surface of their abdomen is bare and shiny black
  • Yellow-faced beesHylaeus sp.
  • Plasterer bees, Colletes sp.
  • Sweat or Halictid (family name) bees – these are often bright metallic colors (e.g., iridescent green)
  • Leaf-cutting bees (Family name: Megachildae) – so called because they cut pieces of leaves to use in their nests


Bees on Common MilkweedBees on common milkweed by Courtney Celley, USFWS


  • White-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) – they hover while collecting nectar
  • Milkweed tiger or tussock moth (Euchaetias egle); their young also eat the leaves of milkweed plants


  • Eastern tiger swallowtail ( Pterourus glaucus)
  • Pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor
  • Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
  • Great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele)
  • American copper (Lycaena phloeas american)
  • Edward’s hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii)

Great spangled fritillary on milkweed.Great spangled fritillary on milkweed by Dani Tinker 

Delaware skipper (Atrytone delaware)

Syrphid or hover flies – they often look like bees or wasps and feed on the nectar. 

Long-horned beetles in the genus Typocerus  - these beetles have long antennae and an elongate body. 

Fly on MilkweedFly on milkweed by Dani Tinker

Feasting on Milkweed: 

In addition to feeding on nectar, the brightly colored large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus eats milkweed plant parts, including the seeds.

Young of the Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, which is closely related to the monarch, also eat milkweed plant parts.

Finally, you even find predatory insects, like assassin bugs (Zelus sp.), can be found looking for their next meal on milkweed plants.   

Marvelous Milkweed
As you can see, milkweed species serve as an important food source for a number of different animals. Plus, by letting milkweed grow, we can welcome these insects to the neighborhood. What insects do you see on your milkweed?

Links to each species would be nice, so we could see what they look like.
# Posted By @SaunieInDiego | 7/5/16 10:49 PM

@SaunieInDiego - Thanks for the thoughtful comment! I'll go in and add some :) @starfocus
# Posted By | 7/6/16 9:48 AM

I've seen articles recently reminding us that there are different species of milkweed. Can't remember exactly, but declining monarch numbers may not be helped by certain milkweeds (help?). We've got lots of common milkweed in our front yard in the Indianapolis area. Lots of assassin bugs, and a few monarch caterpillars each year. I love that my kids can explore the plant/animal species in our front native flower garden.
# Posted By Joel Wagley | 7/6/16 5:59 PM

Joel, native milkweed is what monarchs need. Tropical milkweed foliage does not die back in areas that stay warm during winter, which can encourage monarchs not to migrate and breed year-round and can cause the buildup of a debilitating parasite, called OE.
# Posted By Fish and Wildlife Service | 7/7/16 9:11 AM

We have 2 species of milkweed in s. Nevada. I have photographed and identified 35 species of insects on rush Milkweed (A. subulata), and 12 on desert milkweed (A. erosa). Most obvious are 3 species of Pepsis wasp and 4 spider wasps, 2 sweat bees, 3 syrphid flies, 2 robber flies (predators), 2 other dipterans, Queen, gray hairstreak, and Reakirts blue butterflies, several moths, many hemipterans, from aphids to assassin bugs, Say's stinkbug, various milkweed bug species. and leaf-hoppers to name a few. Species vary from day to night with a number of species only on the flowers at night. Desert milkweed has fewer insect species, but only one pepsis wasp species was found on both rush and desert milkweed. All other insects species were found on one or the other species, but not both. The species also vary from year to year, with some years having many insects species visiting these plants, to other years with virtually being devoid of insects.
# Posted By LN Lodwick | 7/8/16 1:09 PM

My milkweed is orange and yellow. Lots of insects and a few monarchs but the plant has reseeded itself to the point of being invasive in my border garden. Is it the native variety ?
# Posted By LIZ | 8/30/16 8:53 AM
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