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Labidomera clivicollis

What do they look like?

As an adult, Labidomera clivicollis is oval shaped and is 12 to 13 mm in length. The head is black, and the pronotum, which is the part behind the head on the back, is also black. The elytra, which cover the wings, are either orange or yellow, with dark blue to black spots. Each side of the elytra are almost perfectly symmetrical. Legs are a metallic blue color. Larvae have black body segments with spots. The pronotum of the larvae has a black/brown covering around the edges. It has hairs or bristles on all parts of its body, with the most hairs on the head and legs. (Blatchely, 1926; Daccordi and LeSage, 1999; Eickwort and Eickwort, 1986; Gustafson and Chaboo, 2009; Peterson, 1951; Quinn, 2008)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    12 to 13 mm
    0.47 to 0.51 in

Where do they live?

Labidomera clivicollis is found in the eastern half of the Nearctic region. It is present over most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, and as far south as northern Mexico. (Blatchely, 1926; Daccordi and LeSage, 1999; Quinn, 2008)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Swamp milkweed leaf beetles live on many species of milkweed plants, usually the swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. They can be found wherever milkweed grows, particularly in meadows, grasslands, along roadsides, and in wetlands. (Dickinson, 1996; Eickwort, 1971; Palmer, 1981)

How do they grow?

The swamp milkweed leaf beetle has the typical beetle life cycle of egg, larva, pupa, and adult. This is called complete metamorphosis. This species has 4 larval stages, called instars. The last instar burrows in the ground to pupate. If the last instar larvae do not have food, they will pupate at a smaller size. However, this makes much smaller adults, and smaller females lay smaller eggs, which are less likely to survive. After pupation, these beetles emerge as adults. Beetles that are still alive when winter begins go into hiding for the winter. In the north, these beetles only have one generation, meaning that eggs are only laid at one period of time during the year. In the south, this species has at least two generations every year. This is likely because temperatures in the south are warmer for longer, allowing beetles to lay eggs later in the season. (Dickinson, 1992a; Gustafson and Chaboo, 2009; Palmer, 1981; Palmer, 1982; Palmer, 1983; Palmer, 1984; Palmer, 1985)

How do they reproduce?

Males and females of Labidoomera civicollis mate many times with others of their species. Mating may last for up to 2.5 days. Males often guard their female mates until females lay eggs, to prevent other males from mating with the same female. Males that do not have mates will often attack males that do have mates. Males will even stop eating so that they can spend more time guarding their females. While guarding females, males will sometimes do a courtship display, but also will just ride around on the backs of the females. The longer a male stays with a female, the more successful the male is in fertilizing the eggs of the female. By doing so much to guard the female that they have mated with, males can be sure that the eggs that the female lays are their own offspring and are therefore passing on their genes. (Abbot and Dill, 2001; Dickinson, 1986; Dickinson, 1987; Dickinson, 1988; Dickinson, 1992a; Dickinson, 1997; Palmer, 1983)

Females lay groups of up to 60 eggs at one time. Because females can mate more than once (up to 10 times in one study), the individuals in one egg group may all have the same father or can have different fathers. In the north, eggs are laid during one period of the year, producing one generation. In the south, there are at least two generations per year, because a longer summer allows for more periods of egg laying later in the season. (Dickinson, 1986; Dickinson, 1992b; Dickinson, 1992a; Gustafson and Chaboo, 2009; Palmer, 1983)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    This species has one generation in the north and two in the south.
  • Breeding season
    Mating takes place in the summer in the north, and in the spring and late summer in the south.
  • Range eggs per season
    60 to 300
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10 days

Labidomera clivicollis provides nutrients in the eggs for the offspring to use for growth and development. After eggs are laid, adults provide no more parental care. In a related species, Labidomera suturella, females provide some care for their larvae, but this has never been seen in L. clivicollis. (Choe, 1989)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female

How long do they live?

Little information is available on lifespan of Labidomera clivicollis. It likely lives for a few weeks or months in the summer after reaching adulthood. The adults that hibernate during winter and emerge again in the spring have a longer lifespan, even though they are inactive during the winter. (Palmer, 1983)

How do they behave?

Labidomera clivicollis moves around mostly during the day. It can fly, but likely does not fly far as it stays near areas with its host plant, milkweed. L. clivicollis lives by itself, except when mating. Males have been known to fight each other, even when there is no female near by, showing that the males are fighting over their host milkweed plants. (Abbot and Dill, 2001; Quinn, 2008)

Home Range

Adults generally stay near habitats with host plants, typically swamp milkweed. (Quinn, 2008)

How do they communicate with each other?

There is little information about communication in Labidomera clivicollis, but this species probably uses sight and chemicals to communicate between beetles. Touch is also important for communication, and is used during mating and courtship, like when males ride on the back of females. Males also physically attack one another, to fight over mates but also to fight over host plants. L. clivicollis probably views its environment with sight, and also detects chemicals in the environment. (Abbot and Dill, 2001)

What do they eat?

Labidomera clivicollis mostly eats the swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. In some areas of Texas, these beetles will eat Cynanchum unifarium, and in Illinois they will eat other Asclepias species. One problem with feeding on milkweed plants is that they have toxic steroids called cardenolides. Labidomera clivicollis have adapted to this by becoming less effected by the toxic steroids, and can feed on milkweed without being harmed. Larvae have also been known to cannibalize eggs and smaller larvae. (Dickinson, 1992a; Dobler, et al., 2012; Eickwort and Eickwort, 1986; Palmer, 1984; Quinn, 2008)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Many other insects feed on Labidomera clivicollis. A damsel bug, Nabis subcoleoptratus, is a known predator of the larvae and eggs of L. civicollis. The larvae of Melanostoma mellinum, a fly of the family Syrphidae, preys on all larval instars. The stink bugs Podisus maculiventris and Podisus placidus, and many kinds of spiders are also predators of Labidomera clivicollis. Birds and rodents of many different species are also likely predators. Cannibalism also occurs in this species. Larvae that have just hatched will eat the unhatched eggs. Larvae will also eat other larvae. To defend itself from other predators, Labidomera clivicollis uses the toxic steroids, cardenolides, that it gets from eating milkweed. It also has aposematic warning coloration. Predators quickly learn that insects with bright colors or patterns are usually poisonous, and so are less likely to try to eat them. The colors of L. clivicollis warn predators that they should not try to eat it. (Dobler, et al., 2012; Eickwort, 1977; Quinn, 2008)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • aposematic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Labidomera clivicollis is a significant herbivore on milkweed. Since it feeds only on milkweed, it can cause damage to these plants, by removing the leaves. L. clivicollis mostly eats swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. It also occassionally eats other species of Asclepias, as well as Cynanchum unifarium in Texas, and Enslenia albida in Illinois. A parasitic mite, Chrysomelobia labidomerae uses the body of L. clivicollis as a host. It feeds on the body fluids of adults, and moves from beetle to beetle during mating. The parasitoid tachinid fly Adoryphorophaga aberrans occasionally uses L. clivicollis as a host, which causes the death of L. clivicollis. (Abbot and Dill, 2001; Eickwort, 1977; Gustafson and Chaboo, 2009; Quinn, 2008)

Species (or larger taxonomic groups) used as hosts by this species
  • Asclepias incarnata
  • Cynanchum unifarium
  • Enslenia albida
Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • Chrysomelobia labidomerae
  • Adoryphorophaga aberrans

Do they cause problems?

There are no known negative effects of Labidomera clivicollis on humans.

How do they interact with us?

There are no known positive effects of Labidomera clivicollis on humans.

Are they endangered?

Labidomera clivicollis is not an endangered species.


Brandon Bodnariuk (author), University of Michigan Biological Station, Brian Scholtens (author, editor), University of Michigan Biological Station, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


Abbot, P., L. Dill. 2001. Sexually transmitted parasites and sexual selection in the milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis. Oikos, 92: 91-100.

Blatchely, W. 1926. Catalogue of the Coleoptera of Indiana. Indianapolis, Indiana: W.B. Burford.

Choe, J. 1989. Maternal care in Labidomera suturella Chevrolat (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Chrysomelinae) from Costa Rica. Psyche, 96: 63-67.

Daccordi, M., L. LeSage. 1999. Revision of the genus Labidomera Dejean with a description of two new species (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Chrysomelinae). Pp. 437-461 in M Cox, ed. Advances in Chrysomelidae biology, Vol. 1. Leiden, The Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers.

Dickinson, J. 1987. Lifetime reproductive success and sperm competition in the milkweed leaf beetle (Labidomera clivicollis, Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). PhD dissertation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Dickinson, J. 1988. Determinants of paternity in the milkweed leaf beetle. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 23: 9-19.

Dickinson, J. 1997. Multiple mating, sperm competition and cryptic female choice in the leaf beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Pp. 164-183 in J Choe, B Crespi, eds. The evolution of mating systems in insects and arachnids. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Dickinson, J. 1996. The behavior and ecology of Labidomera Chevrolat (Chrysomelidae: Chrysomelinae). Pp. 323-335 in P Jolivet, T Hsaio, M Cox, eds. The biology of Chrysomelidae III. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Academic Publishing.

Dickinson, J. 1992. Egg Cannibalism by larvae and adults of the milkweed leaf beetle (Labidomera clivicollis, Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Ecological Entomology, 17: 209-218.

Dickinson, J. 1986. Prolonged mating in the milkweed leaf beetle Labidomera clivicollis clivicollis ( Coleoptera : Chrysomelidae): a test of the "sperm-loading" hypothesis. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 18: 331-338.

Dickinson, J. 1992. Scramble competition polygyny in the milkweed leaf beetle: combat, mobility, and the importance of being there. Behavioral Ecology, 3: 32-41.

Dobler, S., S. Dalla, V. Wagschal, A. Agrawal. 2012. Community-wide convergent evolution in insect adaptation to toxic cardenolides by substitutions in the Na,K-ATPase. PNAS, 109: 13040-13045.

Eickwort, K. 1971. The ecology of Labidomera clivicollis, a relatively rare milkweed beetle closely related to the Colorado potato beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae, Doryphorini). PhD. dissertation.. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Eickwort, K. 1977. Population dynamics of a relatively rare species of milkweed beetle (Labidomera clivicollis). Ecology, 58: 527-538.

Eickwort, R., G. Eickwort. 1986. Effects of parasitism by the mite Chrysomelobia labidomerae (Acari: Podapolipidae) on the longevity and fecundity of its host beetle, Labidomera clivicollis (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). International Journal of Acarology, 12: 223-227.

Gustafson, G., C. Chaboo. 2009. Ambulatory use of ventro-lateral abdominal ampullae by larvae of Labidomera clivicollis (Kirby)(Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). The Coleopterist's Bulletin, 63: 357–363.

Hsiao, T., C. Hsiao. 1983. Chromosomal analysis of Leptinotarsa and Labidomera Species (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Genetica, 60: 139-150.

Palmer, J. 1981. Life history consequences of resource seasonality in the milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis. PhD dissertation. Austin, TX: University of Texas.

Palmer, J. 1984. Environmental determinants of seasonal body size variation in the milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis (Kirby) (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 77: 188-192.

Palmer, J. 1985. Life history consequences of body size variation in the milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 78: 603-608.

Palmer, J. 1985. Phenology and dormancy in the milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis (Kirby). American Midlands Naturalist, 114: 13-18.

Palmer, J. 1982. Photoperiodic effect on size-related metamorphosis in the milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis. Physiological Entomology, 7: 37-41.

Palmer, J. 1983. Photoperiodic control of reproduction in the milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis. Physiological Entomology, 8: 187-194.

Peterson, A. 1951. Larvae of insects: Coleoptera, Diptera, Neuroptera, Siphonaptera, Mecoptera, and Trichoptera. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, Inc..

Quinn, M. 2008. "Milkweed Lead Beetle" (On-line). Accessed August 09, 2012 at

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Bodnariuk, B. and B. Scholtens 2014. "Labidomera clivicollis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 23, 2024 at

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