Black widows, bengal tigers, monarch butterflies are all recognizable for their fantastic warning signs of color. Milkweed bugs are equally as alarming and seeing one of these can be daunting. Especially when there seems to be an infestation of sorts on your milkweed plants. But these guys are among the few that can tolerate the toxicity of milkweed. They belong to the order Hemiptera, and are part of the family Lygaeidae, or “true bugs”. 

There are actually two kinds of milkweed bugs. The large, and the small. The small milkweed bug has a black heart on its back, while the large milkweed bug has a black bar straight across, and of course, they are different in size.

Milkweed bug on swamp milkweed

Unlike the Milkweed Beetle, these do not overwinter on the plant. They are migratory.

However, you may notice some very similar looking orange and black bugs on your sunflower plants if you have any. They are mimicking their poisonous neighbors. But they are actually attracted to plants in the Aster family, and pose no toxicity at all. The pattern on their back is that of a varsity letter V. These are known as False Milkweed Bugs. (Pictured below).

So there you have it, the big, the small, and the true and the false. All in all, enjoy their striking coloration and see if you can tell them apart! (Hint: the answer lies in flower power.)