Easily identified by their bright red or black exoskeleton lined with narrow red lines, the boxelder bug is considered a pest by many people, especially when the fall season is upon us. Scientifically known as Boisea trivittata, the boxelder bug is a small insect that is normally found in North America. It adopts its name from its feeding habits, as boxelder bugs can usually be found feeding from a boxelder tree, though they also enjoy the tastes of maple and ash trees.
Unlike many other pests, these insects are only a nuisance because of their presence, whether indoor or outdoor, and are generally deemed to be safe. These bugs however, can become a pain in the fall season, so it is important to learn about them if they have become a nuisance to you. Detailed below are some of the most important facts about the boxelder bug that will allow you to understand how they function, in order to get rid of them, once and for all.
What are boxelder bugs?
Boxelder bugs are a specific type of insect that is normally found in North America, and are known for their excessive feed on boxelder trees. They belong to the family “Rhopalidae,” which is the family of unscented plant bugs. Despite this, they still tend to have a strong and distinct scent, and can even release a specific, pungent scent when they are disturbed or are feeling threatened. Their entire life cycle normally occurs at the boxelder tree, with most insects preferring female boxelder trees because of the seeds that are present. Most boxelder bugs enjoy the seeds of the boxelder tree, instead of the fruit or any other part of the plant. They also develop in maple trees as well, feeding on maple seeds just the same.
Boxelder bugs have a peculiar but understandable life cycle, and tend to gradually develop with small changes over time. They first start off as an egg like many other insects, and then slowly morph into a nymph, after which they get to adult status. They are normally compared and sometimes easily confused with “stink bugs” because of the similarity in appearance of the two, and the strong scent they both produce when they are disturbed, but these two types of insects do not even belong to the same order. All fully grown/adult boxelder bugs also have wings present, with two attached antennae. They are not normally troublesome pests, but can easily be if they decide to move indoors.
During the fall and winter months, boxelder bugs tend to look for more suitable and warm conditions, which may even lead some of these pests indoors, but they normally prefer to get comfortable in the tree that they have made a nest in. During this time, these bugs can also be seen as a problem for farmers, as they tend to cause damage to certain fruits and plants, with issues such as fruit deformation, scars and corky tissues being reported. Another major problem these bugs cause in the winter, is by clustering together in areas such as rocks, trees and some man-made structures, usually in an effort to keep warm but also stay close to the host tree.
Boxelder bugs originate from the order called “true bugs”, which is an umbrella term for an order of insects that contain anywhere from 50.000 to 80.000 different species. This group is scientifically known as the Hemiptera, with most of its members being plant eaters. They tend to be more prey than predators, and fall in the category of agricultural pests.
What do boxelder bugs look like?
Boxelder bugs are normally about 1/2 an inch (or 12 mm) in size, and are identified by their various colors. These colors include but are not limited to black, bright red and an orange brown red hue that normally forms narrow lines on the exterior. A distinct but often overlooked characteristic of the boxelder bug is the change in color of the wings depending on the stage of life that the bug has reached. For example, one of the best ways to differentiate a nymph boxelder bug from an adult boxelder bug is by looking closely at the color of the wings. As boxelder bugs metamorphosize from nymphs to adults, their once bright red hue on the abdomen tends to change to a dark brown or black color.
Another way to differentiate the adult boxelder bug from the nymph is by looking at their sizes. Adult boxelder bugs are normally longer creatures, measuring ½ an inch in standard size, while the nymph is just half this size. Unlike other social insects, boxelder bugs don’t have a nest for themselves, but instead, they tend to cluster around the boxelder tree all at once. This is quite odd as most insects tend to come together, but boxelder bugs are different. While their behavior may seem odd, there are plenty of other insects that behave in a similar manner, such as ladybugs, and lady beetles. All of these pests together are thrown into the group now commonly referred to as “overwintering pests”.
Do boxelder bugs bite and what are the symptoms?
Though boxelder bugs can be an annoying pest to have around, they are generally harmless in most circumstances. These bugs are not known to bite, but there have been some rare occurrences in which it is said that boxelder bugs did bite, but only as a defense mechanism. This clearly shows that they have the ability to be harmful if they were of that nature, but instead, they choose to just be annoying, but generally peaceful creatures. It’s important to note that when these bugs do occasionally pierce through one’s skin, that person normally gets slightly irritated and itchy skin, leaving a red spot on the area that was bitten. Please seek medical attention for any symptom that is more severe.
The general consensus is that boxelder bugs are nuisance pests, meaning they are generally just there to annoy you but not necessarily to harm you. They are not carriers of any disease, neither do they sting. The only problem that can be recorded with this pest is its ability to stain walls by releasing their feces, and to emit an unpleasant odor when disturbed or smushed. So these bugs are fairly harmless, and you don’t have to worry about an encounter with them any time soon.
Are boxelder bugs dangerous?
As mentioned before, apart from being a nuisance, the truth is that boxelder bugs are relatively harmless little creatures. They do bite on rare occasions when they are disturbed but apart from this, they are no reason to cause an alarm. A boxelder bug infestation will leave you more annoyed than actually in danger, as they tend to leave both their scent and their stain almost everywhere. The truth is the boxelder bugs normally venture inside when it is cold outside, and they are ready to enter their hibernations period. They usually head straight to sunlit areas to keep themselves warm, and generally never move from this area for a while unless they are disturbed. Because they are mostly in hibernation mode when they venture inside, these bugs generally cause no issue to anyone.
Signs of a boxelder bug infestation
Unlike many other household pests, boxelder bugs have some distinct signs of infestation that will definitely indicate their presence. They usually migrate indoors in search of a warmer temperature when outside gets too cold, normally dwelling in areas that give them decent exposure to sunlight. Once these bugs are inside however, they generally hibernate until springtime. While other pests such as ants may be noticed by leading a long trail from their nest to your kitchen counter, or rats may be noticed by their droppings everywhere, boxelder bugs aren’t just a nuisance because you can see them, but also because you can smell them. Detailed below is a list of the most common signs that will allow you to discern if you have a boxelder bug infestation.
- Their presence in or around your home – Perhaps the most telltale sign of any infestation is the presence of the pest in your home, more than regular. In a boxelder bug infestation, you will find these pests in a certain section of the home where they can get adequate sunlight. If this area has a light colored paint, you will soon find little color stains that are significantly difficult to get rid of. Boxelder bugs are also known to hibernate at certain times when they move indoors, meaning they may not move from the area that they have landed in.
- A stinky, distinct, pungent scent – Boxelder bugs have a stinky pungent scent that they release when they are disturbed or when they pass feces. This scent is one of the telltale signs of an infestation, as it can become very thick depending on the level of infestation that you may have. There is no way to get rid of this scent without getting rid of the boxelder bugs, so ensure you read on to figure out how to do that.
- You see colored markings on lighter areas – Boxelder bugs are drawn to sunlit areas with a lighter colored paint, so the best way to identify if you have an infestation is to search for discoloration in more gracefully lit areas in your home. Once you spot these little markings, you’ll be able to discern whether or not you have a boxelder bug infestation.
Why you may have a boxelder bug problem
With mosts pests, we can normally pinpoint some type of human behavior, (or lack thereof) that leads to them having insects, except for boxelder bugs. These pests are an exception to pests as we know it. Their entire life cycle revolves around the boxelder or maple syrup tree, with little care for humans and their dwellings. The only true issue that humans may have with these pests is their annoyance in the winter months, as they gather together to hibernate. The truth is, the reason you may have a boxelder bug problem is not due to a lack of hygienic practices or anything of the sort, but more dependent on the season of the year you may have just entered.
Where did boxelder bugs come from?
Early records of boxelder bugs place them in the continent of North America, where an abundance of both boxelder trees and maple trees have always been present. There have also been records of the boxelder bugs in many tropical countries, where they live on boxelder trees on the beach. What a life right? It only makes sense that boxelder bugs would find the one place in the country that is not warm and humid to live in. Ultimately, boxelders find their origins in North America and have slowly spread to European countries through migration.
How to get rid of boxelder bugs
While boxelder bugs are not the hardest pests to get rid of, they are not the easiest either. Though relatively harmless, just their presence in your home can make you annoyed. There are many methods that have been tried in the past to get rid of these pests, from soapy water, to moth balls, to even using bug bombs, and while these may be effective temporarily, they ultimately fail as they don’t attack the root of the problem. Detailed below are some of the most effective techniques that can be used to get rid of boxelder bugs, once and for all.
Using organic home remedies
The key to this method is using foolproof methods that attack the root of the problem, instead of making a simple DIY spray that may just be a temporary fix. There are many organic products on the market that are effective, but the two most well known and accessible ones are Diatomaceous Earth and Borax.
Food grade Diatomaceous Earth
Due to its rising popularity, Diatomaceous Earth or DE for short, has become somewhat of a household name. If you’re not familiar with it, DE is a chalky powdery substance made of fossilized phytoplankton that have accumulated over years. These fossilized substances are also known as diatoms, which explains how DE got its name. Its rise in popularity is due to its efficacy in a number of household and medical conditions, all while being safe and nontoxic for humans. DE works by piercing through the tough exoskeleton that boxelder bugs and many other insects have, and suffocating their internal organs, causing them to die. It is a highly effective natural pesticide, and has been proven to work in a number of cases.
To use Diatomaceous Earth to get rid of boxelder bugs, simply sprinkle this powder in and around spaces in the home that these bugs may enter or exit through, or even on the bugs themselves. You may also sprinkle this powder in and around the yard where you have seen these insects. While DE is non-toxic to humans, it is entirely possible for one to have an allergic reaction to it, so be sure to wear gloves, mask and other protective clothing when using this substance.
This powder works in the same way that DE does, by breaking down the exoskeleton of insects and then suffocating their internal organs, but is more widely known as it has been around for longer. Borax is also a white powdery compound, but is made of boron. It is relatively easy to access, with it being stocked in the cleaning aisle of most grocery stores and even in some drug stores. It is relatively safe for use, though ingestion by humans is not recommended.
To use Borax as a method of killing boxelder bugs, you must go to the root, the boxelder tree. Sprinkle a thick layer of Borax at the base of the boxelder tree, or at places in your home where these bugs tend to gather. It is normally a very successful and effective natural remedy, used by many.
Using chemical insecticides
While chemicals are losing their place in this seemingly up and coming organic and natural world, they are still as efficient as ever. If you’d prefer to get rid of boxelder bugs the most convenient and easy way, you can just use chemical insecticides to solve the problem. Here are two methods that are proven to work when using chemical methods.
A perimeter treatment
This method is especially effective if you are aiming to get rid of boxelder bugs that have infested the home. This treatment is formulated to be used around the home on surfaces that bugs may use to get inside the home. It involves spraying the chemical insecticide around any possible openings in the home, even in those that you didn’t know were there. Ensure that every vent, window sill, door, garage and cracks in the wall have been covered by the insecticide spray. For best results, use a Pyrethrin based backpack or power spray rig to achieve the best results. Naturally, you want to wear protective clothing when dealing with insecticides, as they can be harmful to humans. If you prefer to let a professional deal with the problem instead, read on.
Getting professional pest control help
One of the best ways to get rid of an infestation is to call the professionals. Not only are exterminators trained to get rid of pests definitively, they have the right equipment and techniques that will allow them to do a better job than you may ever do. Once you contact the exterminator and inform them of what you would like to be done, you will be sure to have a boxelder bug free home when they are through.
Boxelder bug prevention
The best way to avoid having a boxelder bug infestation is to prevent them from entering your home in the first place. This may involve taking some strenuous action, and paying close attention to these pests as they move closer and closer to your house, but in the end it will be worth it. Boxelder bugs are such a nuisance, and any attempt to prevent them from entering your home should be awarded, so without further convincing, here are some of the most effective methods to prevent boxelder bugs from entering, and then infesting your home.
- Seal off all entrance and exit points in your home – As stated above, the best way to prevent boxelder bugs from infesting your home is by ensuring they don’t enter in the first place. One of the easiest ways that pests enter our homes are through small cracks or holes that we may not notice, or by creeping through the crevices of doors and windows. Searching for and sealing off all cracks, crevices, holes or openings in general will help you to get rid of the infestation by keeping these annoying pests out, and by giving you the time needed to rid your house of those that are already present inside.
- Use herbal scents/essential oils to keep them away – Like many other insects and pests, boxelder bugs tend to stay away from certain harsh and seemingly pungent scents. One of these scents is vinegar. Simply combining vinegar and water in a spray bottle and using that around the perimeter of your house could be one of the most effective methods for keeping boxelder bugs at bay. Though this method may be time consuming, it is very powerful as just the scent of the vinegar will quickly drive them away, making your home 100% boxelder bug free.
- Get rid of your boxelder or maple tree – If you live in an area where these trees are simply just cosmetic to you, it would be very wise to get rid of them completely to deal with your boxelder bug problem. Not only do boxelder bugs feed on these trees, it is the place where their entire life cycle occurs, making them dependent on it for a certain quality of life. This method may seem a bit extreme for a lot of people, but if you have tried everything else and have had no success, this is ultimately the only method that will get rid of these pests forever.
And there you have it, all you need to know about boxelder bugs, how they operate and why you may have them in your home. I hope you find this guide useful and that it helps you get rid of your bug problem.