Dogbane Beetle: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The Dogbane Beetle is a fascinating and colorful insect that can be found in various parts of North America. Known for its beautiful iridescent blue-green to coppery coloration, this beetle is commonly associated with the hemp dogbane plant (Apocynum cannabinum), where it feeds on the leaves and even derives its name from.

One major characteristic of Dogbane Beetles is their ability to produce and secrete a milky sap when disturbed, which acts as a chemical defense against predators. They have a roundish body shape and typically measure around 8 to 12 millimeters in length, making them relatively easy to spot on their host plants. While their stunning colors are definitely eye-catching, it’s essential to remember that they can be harmful to certain crops and plants due to their feeding habits.

Some pros and cons of these beetles include:

Pros:

  • Create a beautiful and attractive display in gardens
  • May help in controlling dogbane plant populations

Cons:

  • Can cause damage to certain plants and crops
  • The milky sap they produce can be toxic to some animals

In summary, the Dogbane Beetle is a captivating insect with unique features and benefits; however, it’s crucial to understand its potential harm to vegetation. By focusing on how to manage its population, we can appreciate its beauty while taking care of the environment.

Dogbane Beetle: An Overview

Species and Classification

The Dogbane Beetle (or Chrysochus auratus) belongs to the Leaf Beetle family, scientifically known as Chrysomelidae. This family is part of the Order Coleoptera within the Class Insecta. Dogbane Beetles are prevalent throughout North America.

Description and Appearance

These vibrant beetles are known for their striking iridescent appearance, which is the result of light reflecting off the tiny, tilted plates on their exoskeleton, overlaying the pigment layer. Dogbane Beetles are oval-shaped and usually measure less than half an inch in length. The head and thorax are typically bright, shiny green, while the elytra can exhibit various hues, such as copper, brass, or blue.

Here’s a quick comparison of the Dogbane Beetle’s features:

Feature Dogbane Beetle
Scientific Name Chrysochus auratus
Family Chrysomelidae
Order Coleoptera
Habitat North America
Size Less than half an inch
Color Iridescent green with copper, brass, or blue tones

Some key characteristics of the Dogbane Beetle are:

  • Oval-shaped body
  • Unremarkable antennae
  • Small head, often shielded by a large prothorax
  • Short legs
  • Domed elytra
  • Bright, iridescent coloring

As for their diet, Dogbane Beetles are herbivores, feeding on the leaves and roots of dogbane plants (Apocynum spp.), sometimes leaving sticky bits of latex behind.

Life Cycle and Habitat

Eggs and Larvae

Dogbane Leaf Beetles lay their eggs in protective capsules on host plant leaves, commonly on dogbanes, including milkweeds. The larva emerges from the egg and feeds on the host plant. Features of the larvae include:

  • Tiny size
  • Short legs
  • Smallish heads

As larvae, they feed on dogbane leaves which contain toxic substances, providing them with some defense against predators. In general, open habitats like fields and grasslands are preferred by the dogbane beetle and its host plants.

Pupa and Adult

When ready to pupate, the larva forms a pupa. After some time, the adult beetle emerges. The features of adult dogbane leaf beetles are:

  • Shiny and iridescent appearance
  • Oval-ish shape
  • Lesser than a half-inch in size
  • Unspectacular antennae
  • Domed elytra

Dogbane Leaf Beetles have a lifespan of six to eight weeks and can be found from southern Canada to the Rocky Mountains. They inhabit various environments such as forests, fields, and grasslands.

Adult beetles are known for their promiscuity, mating up to 50 times during their flight period. Males initiate the courtship and stay piggyback on the females after mating to deter other males.

Feeding and Host Plants

Dogbane and Milkweed

Dogbane leaf beetles are known to feed on plants from the Apocynaceae family, with common host plants such as dogbane and milkweed. These beetles particularly consume the foliage of Apocynum cannabinum (Indian hemp or common dogbane) and Apocynum androsaemifolium (spreading dogbane) plants. Milkweeds such as Asclepias spp. may also be host plants, but to a lesser extent.

Dogbane and milkweed plants contain toxic compounds called cardenolides. These compounds deter most insects, but the dogbane beetle has adapted to tolerate them, allowing it to use these plants as food sources without negative effects.

Other Host Plants and Flowers

In addition to dogbane and milkweed, dogbane beetles are known to feed on other host plants such as:

  • Black swallow-wort
  • Butterfly-weed
  • Common milkweed
  • Marsh milkweed

However, compared to dogbane and milkweed, these plants play a relatively minor role in the beetle’s diet. Their feeding on flowers is limited and mostly focused on the apocynum species.

Pros:

  • Helps control the population of potentially invasive plants, such as dogbane.

Cons:

  • May cause damage to other plants in the area if large populations of beetles are present.

Comparison Table of Host Plants

Host Plant Frequency of Consumption Notes
Apocynum cannabinum High Most common host plant for the beetle.
Apocynum androsaemifolium High
Asclepias spp. Moderate Less frequent host plant.
Other host plants Low Becomes more relevant when preferred host plants are scarce.

Interaction with Other Animals and Arthropods

Predators and Parasites

Dogbane beetles face threats from various predators, such as spiders, insects, and other arthropods. Some examples of these predators include:

  • Spiders (in Utah and Arizona)
  • Insects from the Eumolpinae subfamily
  • Parasitic wasps

Parasitic wasps are particularly interesting as they lay their eggs inside the dogbane beetles, eventually killing them when the larvae hatch and feed on the host.

Defensive Mechanisms

Dogbane beetles have developed several defensive mechanisms to protect themselves from predators:

  • Chemical Warfare: They sequester cardiac glycosides from the dogbane plants they feed on, making them toxic to many predators.
  • Stickiness: When feeding on the dogbane plant leaves, the beetles avoid the sticky sap by creating an incision and rubbing the latex off on the leaf.
Defensive Mechanism How it works
Chemical Warfare Sequestering toxic compounds from host plants
Stickiness Avoiding sticky sap while feeding on leaves

To sum up, the interaction between dogbane beetles and other animals and arthropods involves various predators and defensive mechanisms. The beetles use chemical warfare by harnessing the plant’s toxins and adapt their feeding behavior to avoid sticky sap as a means of self-preservation.

Reproduction and Mating Behavior

Courtship and Mating

Dogbane beetles have a unique courtship and mating behavior. Males initiate the courtship by quickly stroking their antennae and front pair of legs on the female. These beetles are known for their promiscuity, with adults mating as many as 50 times during their six to eight week flight period. After mating, males often ride piggyback on females to deter other males from approaching.

Main features of Dogbane beetle courtship:

  • Males initiate courtship
  • Quick stroking of antennae and front legs
  • Promiscuous behavior
  • Males protect females post-mating

Offspring and Life Span

Once a female has mated, she lays her eggs in protective capsules on host plant leaves or on the soil surface. The eggs soon hatch and the larvae, or grubs, emerge. These grubs are sedentary, staying still and feeding on plant tissue until they grow and develop into pupae.

Chemical signals play a crucial role in the life cycle of dogbane beetles, helping to guide the growth and development of the offspring. The life span of these beetles varies depending on environmental factors, but adults typically live for six to eight weeks.

Key characteristics of Dogbane beetle offspring and life span:

  • Eggs laid in protective capsules
  • Sedentary grubs feed on plant tissue
  • Chemical signals aid development
  • Adults live for six to eight weeks

Comparison of Courtship and Offspring Development:

Feature Courtship and Mating Offspring and Life Span
Behavior Promiscuous Sedentary
Duration 6 to 8 weeks 6 to 8 weeks
Protection Males deter rivals Protective egg capsules
Role of chemical signals Not applicable Aid in development

Iridescence and Coloration

Physics Behind the Iridescent Appearance

The iridescent appearance of the Dogbane Beetle (Chrysochus auratus) is due to its unique body structure. Its exoskeleton has:

  • Tilted plates that interfere with light
  • A pigment layer creating vibrant colors

These layers create iridescence by reflecting different wavelengths of light at different angles. The effect is similar to sunlight passing through a prism and creating a rainbow.

Role in the Beetle’s Life

Iridescence plays a crucial role in the Dogbane Beetle’s life, particularly concerning:

  • Camouflage: This structural coloration helps beetles blend with their environment and provides protection from predators
  • Communication: Bright colors are essential for attracting mates during the breeding season

Dogbane Beetles can be found in Eastern North America, often near railroad tracks, feeding on Hemp Dogbane plants. A comparison of this beetle with other species:

Feature Dogbane Beetle Lady Bug Long-horned Beetles
Size Small, around 1/4 inch Tiny, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch Varies, some species can be up to several inches long
Classification Leaf Beetles Coccinellidae Cerambycidae
Appearance Iridescent, green or blue-shiny Red or orange with black spots Often dark, long antennae
Diet Vegetarians, plant pests Predators of plant pests like aphids Larvae feed on wood; adults, on flowers and pollen

It’s important to note that Dogbane Beetles are just one of the many land invertebrates (animals without backbones), sharing the category with earthworms, slugs, snails, insects with jointed legs, crayfish, shrimp, millipedes, centipedes, and mites. Although it belongs to the same category, its unique iridescence distinguishes it from other species, making it stand out like the golden gum on someone’s shoe.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Dogbane Leaf Beetle

 

Have you got a Dogbane Beetle photo yet this year?
June 7, 2010
Found the first Dogbane Beetle of the year here, seems like the sort of thing that ought to be good luck. Made a couple pictures you might like.
Bert
Southern Illinois

Dogbane Leaf Beetle

Hi Bert,
Your photo is the first example of a Dogbane Leaf Beetle we have received this season.

Letter 2 – Dogbane Leaf Beetle???

 

Green Beetle
I am curious to find out what type of beetle this is. I found it at a campground southwest of Colorado Springs. Thanks!
Cindy
Aurora, Colorado

hi Cindy,
We believe this is a Dogbane Leaf Beetle, Chrysochus auratus, though it seems to lack the brassy sheen of most specimens. There are some entirely green specimens posted to BugGuide.

Letter 3 – Dogbane Leaf Beetle

 

green beetle on wheat
I was out photographing mature wheat fields near Jamestown, North Dakota, when, as I stopped along a gravel road, saw several of these green metalic beetles. I would guess they were about 10-15mm in length. They didn’t appear to be feeding on the wheat, at least not at that time. Not sure what I else I can tell you to help with the identification. Date of photo was 7.26.06. Interested,
John

Hi John,
This is a Dogbane Leaf Beetle, Chrysochus auratus. It does not feed on wheat. The photo where the beetle is about to take flight is awesome.

Letter 4 – Dogbane Leaf Beetle

 

some sort of jewel bug
Not quite sure what this beetle is. But this is a great picture I took up in NH. let me know so I can stop thinking about it.
Jim

Hi Jim,
We want you to be able to concentrate on more pressing matters in your life, so we are posting your image of a Dogbane Leaf Beetle.

Letter 5 – Dogbane Leaf Beetle

 

What’s this beautiful metallic beetle?
Location: Hockessin, DE (northern DE near PA)
July 13, 2011 7:39 pm
I rescued this jewel-tone bug from a spider web at the mouth of our garage today. I hope it’s not the insect boring holes in the dogwood, but it was too pretty to leave there. I moved it to the lid of our garbage can to photograph it before it flew to the downspout, then away. It’s the middle of July, hot and sticky weather, but this is the first bug of this kind I’ve seen in a year, a welcome change from the onslaught of brown marmorated stinkbugs which infest the area. We are very near the mushroom farms of Kennett Square, PA, if that’s relevant.
Signature: ShutterBug

Dogbane Beetle

Dear ShutterBug,
The metallic coloration of the Dogbane Beetle,
Chrysochus auratus, is quite spectacular and photogenic.  The species is found west (correction EAST) of the Rocky Mountains.

Thank you very much for the information!  I appreciate it (and can now label my photographs appropriately!)  Wonder what it’s doing in Delaware, though?  (Just rhetorical – I don’t expect an answer!)  Thanks again!

Oops, we meant East of the Rocky Mountains.

Letter 6 – Dogbane Leaf Beetle

 

Subject: So pretty!! But whta is he?
Location: Tennessee
April 4, 2016 4:12 pm
I have a beetle that is rainbow Black underside, and is wet. I couldn’t find what he is is is color that he is a beetle and he is very very very very pretty. So could you help me bug man, be a lot of help.:-)
Thanks!
Signature: Bellaboo

Dogbane Leaf Beetle
Dogbane Leaf Beetle

Dear Bellaboo,
There appears to be some very poorly executed digital retouching in the background of your image which may cause people to speculate on the possibility of color enhancement as well.  This is a Dogbane Leaf Beetle,
Chrysochus auratus, and there is an excellent image on FlickR.

Letter 7 – Dogbane Leaf Beetles

 

Subject: Brilliant Colored Beetles
Location: 2 miles west of Olathe Kansas @ 27465 W 143RD ST
July 26, 2013 10:47 am
I found this pair of mating beetles on some milkweed adjacent to my flower bed at my home in Olathe KS. I was unable to identify it in either of my reference books. The attached picture is magnified to show some extra detail. The larger of the two beetles is approximately 8 millimeters in length and about 4 millimeters wide. I did not observe either of the two feeding although they were found on a small species of milkweed. Can you help with identification?
Signature: Mike Lewis

Dogbane Leaf Beetles
Dogbane Leaf Beetles

Hi Mike,
These are Dogbane Leaf Beetles,
Chrysochus auratus, and they are frequently found feeding upon the leaves of Milkweed.  They really do have lovely metallic colors.

Thanks, I have a Kaufman Field Guide and a National Wildlife Federation Field Guide. Both show color closeups of the Dogbane Leaf beetle and even after looking at both references I was unable to come up with that ID on my own. Thanks very much. ><}}}”>

Letter 8 – Mating Dogbane Beetles

 

Dogbane Beetle Lovin’.
Location: Toledo, OH
August 6, 2011 9:48 am
Found these guys while I was out looking for some milkweed to abduct for my monarch caterpillar I am raising at home. Beautiful little guys, and definitely not shy! I am about 85% sure of my identification, but please correct me if I am wrong! I love you guys.
Signature: Katy

Mating Dogbane Beetles

Hi Katy,
Your identification of mating Dogbane Beetles is absolutely correct.  They truly are a pretty little species.

Mating Dogbane Beetles

 

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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