So, you need to get rid of milkweed bugs. Fast.
This 100% comprehensive DIY tutorial will guide you through all the steps and everything you need to know about ridding these pests- all in one place!
We’ll cover some basic details like identifying milkweed bugs, using natural sprays and repellents to kill or get rid of them, and ways to control and also prevent milkweed bugs from your home or garden.
Sound good? Let’s go pest-free.
Last updated: 12/30/19.
What’s a milkweed bug?
Milkweed bugs are bright-colored pests that are often found on milkweed plants (Asclepias).
You’ve probably seen them “connected” together and scattered about!
They come in both a large and small size, and have striking colorations of orange, black, and red. They’re known as “true” bugs (hemiptera) and have some distinct features.
Most people will notice them first because they’ll often be found crawling all over milkweed plants, especially after a clutch of eggs hatch. They may disturb monarch butterfly larvae and also eat up the milkweed plant.
Milkweed bugs are actually true bugs and often used as research subjects for labs as they’re easy to breed and work with.
They’re also known to release toxins when they’re crushed as a deterrent to predators.
However, if you’re here, you’re probably looking to get rid of milkweed bugs from your plants or save the butterflies. We’ll cover exactly how to do that in this DIY pest control guide.
The first thing to do is to determine if you actually have milkweed bugs, or something else entirely!
Differentiate between the bug on your plant
Note that milkweed plants are home to many different bugs, and milkweed bugs are the most common type, but not the only type.
There are also milkweed beetles, milkweed aphids, and even monarch larvae that you may find on your plant.
So depending on what kind of bug you’re trying to get rid of, you’ll have to differentiate between them so you get rid of the right one!
The most common one is the milkweed bug, which comes in two varieties:
- Small milkweed bug
- Large milkweed bug
When you notice that you have bugs on your plants, it’s important to educate yourself and know the differences between them all so you can reduce the population of the one that’s truly eating your plant.
This way, you can get rid of the pests while leaving the others alone as they’re an important part of the mini-ecosystem you have going on in your garden.
What do milkweed bugs look like?
Milkweed bugs have a distinct coloration compared to other bugs.
They have a striking orange, black, and red coloration on their backs and on their wings.
Milkweed bug anatomy
Fully matured bugs will be about 12-18mm in length and have a segmented abdomen with a black band for males and two black spots for females.
They have a long proboscis and also pierces the plant to suck out on the seed s, stems, and leaves of the plant.
Their body actually contains some toxic compounds they create from the sap of the plant which they suck out. This is a natural deterrent towards predators.
They look like tiny cockroaches that are brightly colored if you had no idea how to ID a pest. That’s probably the best way I can describe them. Tiny, orange/red cockroaches that like to live on milkweed plants.
Newly born milkweed bugs are typically bright orange or red with black antennae and a spotted coloration throughout the wings.
Milkweed bug eggs
When they lay eggs, they’re very easy to identify are they’re brightly colored with orange coloration and are stuck to the plant.
You can tell if they’re milkweed bug eggs because they females will lay about 25-50 eggs, depending on where the bugs are natively located. Some variations in FL, TX, and PR tend to lay clutch sizes in much higher quantities than those in MD and CA.
When milkweed bugs mate, a female and male will “connect” at the rear and mate.
You may see them running around like this attached together when they’re caught and disturbed.
Milkweed bug life cycle
They have a simple life cycle that’s predictable, which is why they’re used in labs for research.
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Milkweed bugs go through a metamorphosis as they transition from nymph to adult. The nymphs look like the fault forms, but they don’t have a full set of wings yet and they have dimmer colorations.
The milkweed bug will transition through five various morphs before they become an adult. Early nymphs have black pads on their wings.
Each morph is called an instar and the bug goes through an incomplete metamorphosis with minimal changes each morph.
Females will lay clutches of eggs and the size of the clutch varies on location and environmental conditions, like temperatures.
Milkweed bug eggs
The eggs will hatch within just 4-6 days and the nymph will molt into an adult over the course of about 30 days. Each morph makes the nymph look more like an adult.
Upon reaching adulthood, the milkweed bug will continually feed on the plant and mate.
Some bugs will migrate while others won’t. The migration between various colonies is what keeps the gene pool flowing.
Adult females become sexually receptive within a few days of becoming a full adult.
Are milkweed bugs harmful to plants?
Milkweed bugs are generally considered a beneficial bug, believe it or not.
This is because they tend to control milkweed plants, as they can easily overgrow. The bug will help keep these plants controlled, as they can become an invasive plant.
Food source for monarchs
Milkweed bugs also provide a food source for monarch butterflies and offer a place for these butterflies to breed also.
Thus, the milkweed plant offers a dual purpose:
- Keeps milkweed plants in check (stops from overgrowth)
- Offers a place for monarch butterflies to breed and eat (breeding ground and food source)
Milkweed bugs and plants
However, when there’s an imbalance between the volume of milkweed bugs and milkweed plants, that’s when there’s a problem.
When there are too many milkweed plants, they’ll overgrowth. But when there are too many milkweed bugs, they may overheat the plants and this may diminish the plant population.
This will also affect monarch butterfly populations, as you can see how one bug affects the rest of the ecosystem.
The problem is basically when there are too may milkweed bugs, as they may eat up the plants faster than they grow back.
This means you’ll have fewer and fewer plants until minimal levels, and you may have no more monarch butterflies and plants remaining after they’re done munching through.
Are milkweed bugs harmful to humans?
Depends on the type of milkweed bugs you’re walking about. Some milkweed bugs (large ones), are completely herbivorous, meaning they eat plant matter only.
They don’t harm humans and don’t bite humans either.
They also won’t harm pets, dogs, cats, or any other animal or mammal. These bugs only eat plants, such as stems, leaves, and seeds of milkweed plants. Thus, milkweed bugs don’t bite and don’t transmit diseases to us.
Small milkweed bugs often get confused with assassin bugs
However, small milkweed bugs are also herbivorous and feed on milkweed plants also just like the larger variant.
People usually get them confused with assassin bugs, which look similar in color and will bite. They’ve ever been seen eating some dogbane beetles.
‘These small milkweed bugs seriously give small milkweed bugs a bad rap, as many people don’t differentiate between the two species.
The small and large milkweed bugs are mainly plant eaters, and won’t bite humans, sting, nor carry any diseases.
But the smaller ones are often seen in larger numbers and freak people out, especially milkweed farmers.
But they’re still necessary
Even though the smaller version of the milkweed bugs seem like a “bad” bug because it appears so rapidly, they’re actually really necessary to maintain the ecosystem.
They’re a very necessary part of the ecosystem and when you have small milkweed bug, that’s actually a sign of a blooming ecosystem.
Smaller milkweed bugs eat plant matter just like the large ones and help the ecosystem remain in place. Disturbing their numbers may destroy the system.
Large milkweed bugs eat milkweed seeds, stems, and leaves, but don’t appear in mass quantities and often farmers ignore them.
Do milkweed bugs bite?
Milkweed bugs don’t bite.
Both large and small milkweed bugs haven’t been shown to bite humans, so there’s no need to be afraid of them.
However, there is another type of bug that closely resemble milkweed bugs called the milkweed assassin bug. This bug will sting humans, so beware.
The milkweed bug and milkweed assassin bug both look almost the same, so it’s often easy to get them confused and mistaken a milkweed bug bite that actually came from a milkweed assassin bug.
So if you ever get bitten by something that looks like a milkweed bug, it’s probably an assassin bug.
What is eating my milkweed?
Although milkweed plants have natural toxicity to repel pests and other things that may want to eat the plant, there are plenty of pests that’ll eat up the milkweed’s seeds, stalks, and leaves.
Of course, the most common pest would be the milkweed bug, as these bugs are the focus on this pest control guide.
However, other than milkweed bugs, there are plenty of other animals and bugs that’ll gladly feed on this plant.
Here are some other common milkweed plant eaters:
- Tussock moths
- Butterfly larvae
- Various pollinators
- Monarch butterflies
- Queen butterfly larvae
- Japanese beetles
- Milkweed beetles
- Milkweed weevils
- Oleander aphids (yellow aphids on milkweed plants)
- Milkweed leaf miners
- Spider mites
- Swamp milkweed leaf beetle
- Milkweed bugs (large and small)
These are just a few of the pests that are commonly found to eat milkweed plants.
There are plenty more, and you should act accordingly and find the proper pest guide to get rid of the specific milkweed bug that’s eating your plant!
But if you’re sure it’s a milkweed bug, then keep reading to see how you can control and prevent these bugs from eating up your plants.
What bugs live on milkweed?
A lot. Pretty much all the ones that feed on milkweed plants covered in the previous section will also live on milkweed.
Some of the most common bugs that spend most of their lives on milkweed plants are the following:
- Swamp milkweed beetle
- Large milkweed bug
- Small milkweed bug
- Red milkweed beetle
- Oleander aphids
- Tussock moth caterpillar
- Blue milkweed beetle
This is not a complete list. There are also other bugs you’ll find on your milkweed plants, but this list is a nice little summary of them. Good stuff.
Should I kill milkweed bugs?
Milkweed bugs aren’t necessarily a threat to your milkweed plants. In fact, they’re a necessary part of the ecosystem and do their part in retaining the natural cycle of all things on your plant’s atmosphere.
You’ll want to leave them alone and never really pick them off for as long as they don’t seem to be harming your milkweed plant’s growth.
But when you start noticing that they’re eating your plants up faster than they’re growing, that’s when they become a problem.
Large milkweed bugs should be left alone, and small milkweed bugs are typically where the problem’s at. If you’re going to remove any bugs, remove the small ones first as they’re typically the troublemaker.
How to get rid of milkweed bugs naturally
This section covers some different methods you can do at home to get rid of milkweed bugs in your garden. Some of these methods work fast, others take a little longer.
The trick is to use them accordingly and use a variety of them to see which one works best for you.
Scale up the ones that work, and stop the ones that don’t.
The trick: Use a variety of these DIY home remedies and see which methods provide none other than the best effectiveness for you.
The best way to get rid of milkweed bugs
The best way to get rid of these pests is none other than to exercise persistence and use a variety of methods to do so.
You’ll want to see what works best for you and then continue doing that. There are no shortcuts here!
How to get rid of yellow aphids on milkweed
Aphids are one of the most common types of pests that may be on your milkweed plants.
The yellow (oleander) aphids are much more common than the orange aphids, but regardless, the process to get rid of the yellow oleander aphids remains the same.
This is what those yellow bugs are on your milkweed plants. Milkweed aphids can be difficult to get rid of, especially when there are a ton of them.
But with continued efforts, even the most difficult aphid population can be controlled and eradicated.
There are many ways you can utilize to get rid of aphids from you milkweed, but the most common and most effective ways are the following:
- Make your own DIY aphid soap
- Spray them with a powerful stream
- Use natural aphid repellent
- Attract natural aphid predators
- Utilize strategic planting methods
- Pick them off manually (when there aren’t a lot)
Check out this comprehensive aphid control guide for more tips.
How to get rid of milkweed beetles
To get rid of milkweed beetles, you’ll want to some a variety of anti-beetle approaches, of course.
The most common beetle would be none other than the red milkweed beetle, which proves to be commonly found on these plants.
The following methods will help you get rid of the beetles on your milkweed plants naturally. You can use them to get rid of both small milkweed bugs and large milkweed bugs.
The easiest and most straightforward way to quickly get rid of milkweed beetles is to use some soapy water that you can easily make at home.
Use a mixture of dish soap and water in a 1:1 ratio. Then pour this mixture into a spray bottle. You can then spray it directly onto the beetles on your plants.
Try this in a small area first on a single plant and watch for how the plant takes the soap. If you notice burning or color-changing, add more water to the solution to dilute the mixture.
Each milkweed plant is different depending on your area and environment, so you’ll have to use a variety of mixtures before you find one that doesn’t burn your plants.
But once you do, you can spray this stuff directly onto the plant to repel and kill any milkweed beetles.
Here’s a video demonstration (Via Kirsten Dirksen):
This approach only will do you any benefit if you don’t have a ton of beetles on your milkweed plants.
You’ll basically want to spray them off with a powerful hose, then pick them off with a pair of garden gloves.
You can run your fingers along the plant to “scoop” them up and dispose of them, or you can literally go in there and pick them off if you only see a few of them here and there.
Essential oils can naturally repel beetles, however, they may also repel the milkweed bugs. Depending on what you’re trying to repel, this may or may not be a sufficient solution.
Essential oil is a strong-smelling oil that will naturally drive beetles away from the plant.
You can basically add a few drops of lavender, peppermint, or tea tree oil into the water and spray the solution directly on the planet. The beetles will be repelled by the scent. You can reapply as needed.
Keep in mind that essential oils may burn the plant, so test this first in a small area. And also note that other bugs may be repelled also, such as milkweed bugs, monarch butterflies and larvae, and aphids.
If you keep your plants healthy by pruning them, you probably won’t be able to attract a large milkweed colony.
This will prevent too many bugs from catching on, and it’s that simple. Simply keep your plants pruned and remove excess foliage when possible.
Attract natural predators
Because milkweed bugs taste bad, not many predators are wanting to eat them. But there are a few that you can attract to your yard, especially those that are native to your area.
You can continue reading to get a hint on specific predators to attract that eat milkweed bugs. Or you just jump to that section using the table of contents.
Limit other bugs
And because small milkweed bugs are typically the problem, you can slow down their population by simply getting rid of their other food sources, like monarch larvae, caterpillars, and beetles.
With less food, they can’t sustain a large population. You have to think nature.
Milkweed assassin bugs
The assassin bug is a commonly confused bug, so it’s worth mentioning these pests and how to get rid of them.
What are milkweed assassin bugs?
The milkweed assassin bug often gets confused with milkweed bugs themselves, as they’re both striking in colors and have the same overall body shape.
However, there are some major differences between these two pests, and you’ll have to know which one you’re dealing with.
What do they look like?
Milkweed assassin bugs are often bright orange and black.
They’re often found on various plants, but especially milkweed plants as they’re looking to eat a variety of bugs like flies, beetles, aphids, mosquitoes, caterpillars, etc. they’re found all over the US.
They have very long legs and antennas, and this is probably the easiest way to identify milkweed assassin bugs.
Their long antennae are probably the easiest way to differentiate them from milkweed bugs. They have large eyes with segmented antennae and three segments on the beak. They also have a soft space between the front legs when not using their beak.
They’ll molt multiple times through simple metamorphosis similar to milkweed bugs.
What do they eat?
They’re named assassin bugs because they hide until their prey walks into proximity, to which they’ll then ambush their prey.
They’ll then pump salivary secretions through a canal inside their piercing mouthpart and will immobilize the pretty so it can’t move. Then they’ll suck out the nutrients from the prey.
Most assassin bugs aren’t aggressive and slow, but will defend themselves and will bite humans if provoked. These bugs hurt.
Their salary injections can definitely be painful to humans and will cause a burning sensation with a very itchy bump that’ll last for a few days.
Do milkweed assassin bugs eat monarch caterpillars?
Yes, assassin bugs do eat caterpillars and monarchs are no exception.
They’ll eat butterflies of all species, including dogbane beetles, larvae, pupae, and even honey bees.
If you’re afraid of your monarchs getting eaten, you’ll want to get rid of the milkweed assassin bug. They’ll eat anything they can get and they just so happen to have an appearance similar to milkweed bugs so they give them a bad rep.
How to get rid of milkweed assassin bugs
Just like milkweed bugs, you can use the same DIY home remedies to get rid of these bugs that are outlined in this guide.
Some of the most effective remedies include soapy water and essential oils as a natural repellent.
You can also use hot water to kill them and also manually remove them using a long tool (don’t use your hands as they’ll bite).
You’ll notice that when you get rid of the milkweed bugs, assassin bugs will naturally also go away by themselves because there is less prey to feed on.
How do I get rid of milkweed bugs in my house?
If you have milkweed bugs in your home, they must’ve either hitchhiked into your home either on you, your dog or cat, or someone else.
Milkweed bugs won’t naturally stay in your home unless you have indoor milkweed plants or something.
Getting rid of milkweed bugs in your home should be relatively simple because they can’t survive in your home unless they have access to milkweed plants.
This should only be a temporary problem in your home.
You can use any of these methods to get rid of them:
- Manually remove them
- Vacuuming the bugs
- Clean or dispose of clothing or objects that have milkweed bugs
- Wash your dog, cat, or pet that may be tracking in milkweed bugs
- Get rid of them from your garden or yard, as that’s where they’re likely coming in from
How do I get rid of milkweed bugs in my garden?
You can get rid of these pests from your garden by getting rid of them on your milkweed plants. The process may be difficult since they breed so quickly and in large quantities.
The trick is to stay persistent and use a variety of pest control techniques until you find one that seems to work best for your situation.
Then scale up on that particular technique. You can use the various methods outlined throughout this guide, such as:
- DIY dish soap killer
- Pressure washer
- Hot water
- Essential oil repellent
- Pruning or trimming your milkweed plants
- Manual removal
- Attract natural predators
What are natural predators of milkweed bugs?
Milkweed bugs are often not considered a pest because they’re very beneficial.
However, you can attract natural predators to come help control their population.
They don’t naturally have any predators because they release a nasty toxin that already keeps predators at bay.
Who would want to eat a bug that can kill you?
Because of this, they don’t have many other predators that eat milkweed bugs. Their bright colors warn any predators from eating them.
Only large animals may eat them, such as birds, lizards, geckos, reptiles, rabbits or deer, but this is usually by mistake.
Milkweed bugs really have no natural predators, so that’s why they’re able to replicate and feed so easily.
Did you get rid of your milkweed bug problem?
That’s about all I have for you.
With practiced patience and persistence, you can significantly minimize your milkweed bug population problem and possibly even get rid of them from your yard (or home) entirely.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to get back to you ASAP. Or if you’ve dealt with milkweed bugs before, leave some words of wisdom for others who are struggling with these unique bugs.
Also if this has helped you, let me know by leaving a comment =]!
Thanks for reading.
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.