The DMV abounds with some of the best nature centers in the country. Two of my favorites are Woodend Sanctuary, nestled inside the Beltway in Chevy Chase, Maryland and home of the Audubon Naturalist Society, and the Howard Conservancy, a 232-acre wildlife sanctuary in Woodstock, Maryland. Summer is always an exciting time to take a suburban safari at these refuges when some of Mother Nature’s wildest flowers are at their best. On a recent trip to the Howard Conservancy, large patches of Heliopsis, a.k.a. false sunflower and oxeye, were in dazzling full bloom. Oxeyes are full bodied members of the aster clan and our native species are dynamite attractors for many interesting insects.
While immersed among some oxeyes, I was surprised to find 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. However, the name false milkweed bug is a bit of a misnomer, as these little rascals actually are connoisseurs of members of the aster family.
Heliopsis is a great plant to spot false milkweed bugs. Watch as the bug on the left nonchalantly grooms its antennae while its mate taps its left hind leg somewhat impatiently while dining on a floret. Bugs are pretty entertaining.
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 recommends a trip to the meadows and gardens at Woodend Sanctuary and the Howard Conservancy to glimpse members of the aster clan. If you encounter glorious oxeyes, take a few moments to hunt for false milkweed bugs.
We thank Woodend Sanctuary and Howard Conservancy 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.