Not that you don’t have enough issues with the aphids on your plants, now you go out to the garden and find little red and black bugs. Yes, you have milkweed bugs. Oh great.
The female bugs lay around 25 eggs or more per day in little groups on your plants or in the seed pod. While they start out yellowish in color, they turn red before they hatch, a mere 5 days later. They are tiny red ovals with they first hatch. As they grow, they go through 5 molts. The nymphs become increasingly spotted and grow wing buds as they mature.
They new adults are yellow and black but quickly grow more red in color as they age. It’s only a week or so after the last molt that the adult males are fertile and in a week or two the females will be laying eggs. The more milkweed seeds that are available, the more eggs the female will lay, which probably explains why they like to lay eggs within the seed pods. They spend winter, spring and early summer in sheltered spots, waiting for your milkweed to mature. Ugh.
The good news is that they don’t do much damage to the plant. They will destroy seeds if the pods aren’t protected, so if you want to save seeds, be sure to cover the pods with netting. If you want to get rid of them, they can be shaken off the plants into a bucket of soapy water or the same squish and rinse that you use for aphids. Again, you want to avoid any insecticide or soap that may linger and injure your caterpillars. You can see the variety of stages in these photos.