04 December, 2009

Rothschild or Red Shield bugs

When I looked at our (Melianthushoney flower the other day, the leaves looked strange. Come a little closer. MASSES of beetles. Each one delicately marked, like a medieval knight in shining armour. Bearing the crest of their company enamelled on the back plate of their armour. Have seen one or two wander onto the roses, but they seem happy to devour the Melianthus. This is a plant which flourishes along streams, and benefits from me watering the rose garden. There is enough to share,  for the birds to have enjoyed the nectar, while the flowers were out. And for me to enjoy layers of wildlife gardening.

 My medieval knight in shining armour, with his Rothschild

Facts which follow are taken from – Field guide to insects of South Africa, by Mike Picker et al. 2004

Spilostethus. Milkweed bug. Easily recognised by a red pattern on a black or grey background. There are 8 species distributed thru the non-desert parts of South Africa. Common and widespread. They like yellow daisies. They feed on the seeds of milkweeds (Asclepias). Minor pest of sunflowers, eating the green seeds. Also eat cotton, citrus, sweet potatoes, apricots and maize.

Monarchs are milkweed butterflies. Large, conspicuously coloured. The caterpillars are brightly banded, warning of their distasteful or poisonous properties. They feed on Asclepiadaceae, Apocynaceae and Moraceae. These poisons from the caterpillar’s diet, persist in the adult butterfly.

The leaders conferring, plotting and planning the campaign

Insects which can eat milkweed, use the plant toxins to deter predators. Then wear warning colours. Don’t eat me. You will either be sick ... or die learning. And of course, other species hop on the band-wagon. Camp followers, who don’t actually EAT the poison, but wear the company badge. Secure in the knowledge that they won’t become LUNCH.

The troops assembling

Asclepias has those beautiful lime green prickly seedpods – like giant inflated gooseberries, wonderful for the vase, if you are willing to compete against the wildlife! Other family members are – Ceropegia, Hoodia, Hoya (wax plant, from Southern China to Australia) and Stapelia.

Apocynaceae  is the frangipani family. We have Carissa – which has thorns, to warn off people, and despite all this talk of poison – edible red plums. Impala lily (Adenium) is another family member. And Acokanthera – Bushman poison tree.

Moraceae brings us the mulberry, from China, whose leaves are eaten by silkworms. Anyone know if silkworms are just as poisonous?? Bit uneasy about wearing silk in future ...

My plant facts come from – The South African what flower is that? By Christo Pienaar 1984   AND   South African wild flower guide 7 – West Coast by John Manning et al. 1996


  1. I think you're safe to wear silk, it's been worn for hundreds of years and takes dye so beautifully.

    I can see why plants have to go through quarantine to go from country to country. We just got rid of the boll weevil in recent times; don't need another pest that eats cotton.

  2. Hi Diana,

    We have these Milkweed Bugs too. You can see them gathered on our milkweed plants (Asclepias). Isn't amazing the things we have in common in the garden thousands of miles apart?

  3. These handsome bugs look different from our milkweed beetles. Unfortunately some birds have figured out how to eat a part of the Monarch butterfly and spit out the rest which houses the toxin from Milkweed... but from the looks at your army of beetles the birds do not care for these little guys. Great photos. Carol

  4. Nell jean - I love to wear silk. And to knit with it.

    Arizona lady - what does your bug's shield look like?

    Carol - how clever of the birds to separate their good from their bad in their meal.

  5. It reminds me of the similiar beetles that infested my garden this summer. They didn't seem to be doing any harm, but they sure were everywhere! I never did figure out what they were.

  6. You sound so much more tolerant of these beetles than I think I would be upon seeing so many. A few sure, but that looks like a bit more. LOL. They are handsome bugs though, I'll give them that.

  7. Ms Robin - with your rainbow of flowers!

    LeSan - we don't do poison, so I watch, and am grateful that the rose beetles are willing to share. We have nesting birds patrolling for bugs, so that works out.

  8. No bug dare to eat my Melianthus, not if it wants to stay alive. I've got a gloved hand and I'm not afraid to use it. :) The Rothschild looks a lot like our Box Elder bug. It is harmless but also a nuisance.

  9. Studying these bugs in our classroom, forming a habitat for these little critters.I searched for more information and I found plenty here.:)


Photographs and Copyright

Photographs are from Diana Studer or Jurg Studer.
My Canon PowerShot A490

If I use your images or information, it will be clearly acknowledged with either a link to the website, or details of the book. If you use my images or words, I expect you to acknowledge them in turn.

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