One of the lesser known treasures of the Washington area is Woodend Sanctuary,home of the Audubon Naturalist Society. Nestled inside the Beltway in Chevy Chase, Maryland, this 40 acre preserve boasts a bounty of natural wonders. While leading a suburban safari at Woodend, I happened across a large patch of Heliopsis, a.k.a. oxeye, in dazzling full bloom. Oxeyes are full bodied members of the aster clan and our native species are dynamite attractors for many interesting insects. Woodend’s large patch of oxeyes did not disappoint, with several busy pollinators and predators working the blossoms.
During the busy summer season false milkweed bugs combine dinner with a date in flower blossoms.
A real surprise came in the discovery of hordes of gorgeous seed bugs busily sucking nutrients from the developing flowers and engaging in their buggy mating rituals amongst the blooms. These little beauties are close relatives of other true bugs like the milkweed bugs and scentless plant bugs we’ve met in previous episodes. In fact, early records often confused this species with small milkweed bugs and recorded it as a denizen of milkweed. Careful observations by one Reverend James M. Sullivan of St. Louis, Missouri, helped clarify the true pattern of food choice of false milkweed bugs. The name false milkweed bug is a bit of a misnomer, as these little rascals are connoisseurs of members of the aster family.
After choosing a handsome mate and consummating the relationship, the female false milkweed bug lays eggs in batches of 15 to 50. Eggs hatch and bright red nymphs use their elongated sucking mouthparts to sip fluids from the plant. Adults can live two months, and along with their nymphs these beauties can be seen on oxeye from June through August in many parts of the country. Bug of the Week wishes all of you a Happy Independence Day and recommends a trip to a meadow or Woodend Sanctuary to glimpse glorious oxeyes and hunt false milkweed bugs on a bright summer’s day.
We thank Woodend Sanctuary, Ann, Richard, and friends for providing inspiration for this episode. The interesting article, “On the Biology and Food Plants of Lygaeus turcicus (Fabr.) (Hemiptera: Lygaeidae)“ by James A. Slater, was used to prepare this episode.