My favorite shade: Do Milkweed Bugs Show Color Preference?

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In my previous post, I wrote of large milkweed bugs and why they make excellent candidates for science projects for both teachers and students. In this and several more posts, I will provide details for experiments that can implore these special bugs; many of which are based on several of my own award winning projects.



As with other animals, insects show preferential behavior when making decisions about their environment. They may be more attracted to certain odors or certain surfaces. Most commonly,  insects seem to attracted to specific colors and color patterns.  In an investigation conducted in 2005 by Nigel Raine and Lars Chittka that observed the relationship between color preferences and foraging for bumblebees, it was revealed that the bees had an innate preference for violet (Ultraviolet-blue) flowers over blue flowers.

In this experiment, you are going to determine if large milkweed bugs show color preference when it comes to their food.


  •  Large milkweed bugs
  • Distilled water
  • 25 sunflower seeds
  • Plastic bottles
  • Food colorings dyes (4)
  • Clear plastic jars/containers
  • Paper  towels
  • Plastic arena/aquarium
  • Lamp
  • Balance

For the large milkweed bugs, you can purchase them here. 

I recommend shopping on for the plastic arena/aquarium and balance.

Everything else can be purchased at your local store.


After the milkweed bugs have become adults (4-6 weeks), begin the experiment:

1)Create (4) food color solutions. Mix 7mL of distilled water with 7mL of food coloring in a plastic bottle. Do this for all 4 solutions.

 2)Place 25 sunflower seeds into each solution.

3)Shake the bottles for at least 1-3 minutes and let the sunflower seeds absorb the food color for 30 -40 minutes.

4)After 30-40 minutes, dispose of the food color solution and place the dyed sunflower seed collections on separate pieces of paper to dry for an additional 30-40 minutes. Ideally, place the seeds under a light source to expedite the process.

5)When dry, place the 4 sets of 25 seeds into 4 clear plastic jars/containers. Make sure to label which dyed sunflower seeds goes into which jar.

6)Take 5 seeds from each of the jars, weigh them  on the balance, and place them at one of the 4 corners of the plastic arena/aquarium.  2

7)Remove the adult Milkweed Bugs from their home unit and place into the arena.

8)For 30 minutes a day, record the number of times the milkweed bugs came into contact with dyed seeds. When finished, return bugs back to their home unit. Note: Do this for at least 10 days and do this at the same time of the day.

9)      After 5 days, weigh the seeds and replace them with a new set.


Observation and Results

Do you notice higher numbers of milkweed bugs for a certain color(s)? Did the seeds’ weight change after 5 days? Was there a relationship between the number of times the bugs came into contact with the dyed seeds and dyed seeds’ weight after 5 days?

If you have more time, you can repeat the experiment until you run out of sunflower seeds. And if you want to, you can switch out new color solutions; maybe even make your own unique colors.


8 thoughts on “My favorite shade: Do Milkweed Bugs Show Color Preference?

  1. This is fascinating stuff. My kids are very interested in nature, particularly insects so I might try this with them. Would this work with other insects, such as beetles?

    1. Hi and thanks for replying. Yes you can try these experiments on beetles as well. Do you have any types in mind? I would also recommend that you if you keep these creatures for an extended period that you provide nourishment for them. You can do some quick research on that.

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