Milkweed Bug Rearing

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Milkweed Bug Needs

Rearing Habitat

  • A clear plastic cup with a cover for student's container.
  • A gallon jar with paper towel tube and fine screened lid.
  • An x-shaped hole (as made for a straw) in the cover should be used for the water tube.
  • A test tube filled with water and tightly plugged with cotton.
  • A piece of dry cotton in the bottom of the container will be used by egg laying females.
  • Vaseline smeared around the top edge of the container. Do not use if there are baby bugs.

The milkweed bug eats seeds by injecting enzymes into the seed and sucking up the dissolved food. Its natural food is seeds of the milkweed plant which may be abundant in your area in the Fall. The milkweed plant has pods full of fluffy white parasols and many brown seeds. The seeds can be gathered, dried, and used directly. Milkweed bugs will also eat unsalted pumpkin seeds, but the hard shell must be cracked or removed. There should be 2-3 seeds for each bug, and these should be changed each week. Old seeds do not need to be removed unless they mold. If the bugs begin to stop feeding and wander the seeds are probably bad. Prepare a new container with fresh seeds.

A test tube filled with water and tightly plugged with cotton should be available in the container and kept full at all times. The plug must be tight so that water does not leak. Do not leave bugs without water. Rest the tube in the bottom of the container so that the insects can crawl into the tube.

Taking Care
Carefully transfer bugs to a clean cup, with new seeds, and a new water tube. This is easiest to do when immatures are in at least the 3rd instar.

Milkweed bugs are hardy and very easy to care for. Their bodies are soft so they should not be pinched or handled roughly.

Raising Young
Eggs are yellow to orange and laid in clumps by the female. Eggs will hatch within ten days. As the young grow, you may need to add a piece of paper towel or paper towel tube to reduce crowding. Young may escape through small holes, so make sure the lid is secure. Milkweed bugs are very small when they first hatch. They either get caught in the Vaseline or can crawl over it. If you have small bugs, do not use Vaseline. Place a single sheet of paper towel or a piece of nylon stocking held in place by a rubber band under the lid of the gallon jar to prevent escapes.

Other Concerns
Milkweed bugs do not bite or sting. Adults do not readily fly away. To prevent mold from growing make sure the water tubes are not leaking. Replace the moldy sunflower seeds and paper towel or tubes frequently.

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Lesson Plans Information Sheets Rearing Sheets Bibliography
Center for Insect Science Education Outreach The University of Arizona
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