For years, homeowners have wondered how to get rid of boxelder bugs. These small critters can be a nuisance in homes and even on commercial properties.
Read on for info on boxelders as well as common ways to exterminate and control them.
Boxelder Bug Facts
What Are Boxelder Bugs?
Boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata) live in most parts of the contiguous United States. They are black with flat wings that overlap atop the bug’s body to form an X-shape.
They have three orange-ish red lines on the thorax and the sides of the body.
Boxelder bugs have black legs, black antennae and an orange underbelly.
They are small, measuring only about 1/2 inch long.
Because of their distinctive red and orange markings, identifying boxelders seems easy.
However, some other critters also have similar orange and red markings. Thus, contacting a pest control company to authoritatively identify them is a good idea.
Boxelder Bug Life Cycle
Boxelders lay reddish brown eggs. The eggs’ color allows them to blend into the bark of boxelder trees.
The boxelder bugs’ eggs hatch in about 10 days. The hatched eggs, called nymphs, are red and about 1/16 inch long. They eat foliage and seeds by placing their mouths onto seeds or leaves and sucking them.
During their adult phase, they gather in large communities on the boughs of boxelder trees. They eat soft parts of the tree, such as twigs, flowers and leaves. They cause minimal damage to trees by extracting juice from them.
During fall, they move around in large quantities, searching for a place to spend the winter. They may invade homes or buildings during winter, and they generally remain inactive in cold weather. However, sometimes they come out in winter when the sun shines brightly.
In springtime, the boxelders emerge from their overwinter locations. During the spring and early summer months, they eat low-hanging vegetation and seeds. Around mid-summer, they move into boxelder trees, where they lay their eggs on the trees.
Despite their namesake, boxelder mites can also be found feeding on ash and maple trees. The nymphs occasionally feed on the ground and in people’s gardens during summer.
Overall, boxelders have a short life cycle and live for only about one year. Typically, one to two generations of the critters are created each year.
Bugs that Look Like Boxelders
Like boxelders, these bugs are small and prefer to come indoors during winter. They also have wings that are folded down atop the bug’s body.
However, unlike boxelders, these insects are colored brown and do not have the red and orange markings of boxelders.
These mites do not prefer to bite people, though they may bit other insects. They prefer to feed on plants and fruit. They pierce the skin of plants and extract juices. For more info on stink bugs and pest control read our guide how to kill a stink bug.
Milkweed bugs (see article on “Milkweed Bug Infestation“) are sometimes confused with boxelders. They do look quite similar since both are black with red markings.
Milkweeds prefer to feed on the milkweed family of plants, which distinguishes them from boxelders. Also akin to boxelders, milkweeds aren’t known for biting.
They have no stingers, and they aren’t usually too troublesome for people with cultivated gardens. In fact, milkweeds control milkweed plants by feeding on them.
The plants are burdensome in gardens, and the critters prevent them from overtaking cultivated gardens.
Red-shouldereds are shaped similar to boxelders, but their red color is limited to the area just behind the antennae; whereas, boxelders have red markings along their bodies and sides.
Like boxelders, red-shouldereds also prefer to winterize themselves indoors. While outside, they feed on goldenrain trees, chinaberry trees and even boxelder trees.
These critters are not known to carry any human diseases, and they do minimal damage to the trees they inhabit.
Florida Leaf-footed Bug
This bug looks similar to the boxelder, but it lacks the red markings across its body. The leaf-footed bug feeds in people’s gardens and it prefers to feed on plants such as peaches, tomatoes and cotton.
Like the boxelder, the Florida Leaf-footed is orange-ish red during its nymph stage. This bug also prefers to spend its winters indoors. It emits a strong, repulsive odor when touched or handled. They are not known for biting.
These look very similar to the box bug in that both are black with reddish markings. However, unlike the box bug, the kissing bug’s red bands are found only along the sides of their bodies, not along the top.
They got their name because they prefer to “kiss” or bite humans around the eyes and the mouth. A bug bite from a kissing bug can be harmful to humans because the bug sometimes carries a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease.
A recent study revealed that about half of these critters found in Texas carry the parasite. Therefore, they should not be handled by bare-handed humans. Chagas disease effects humans and other mammals. Symptoms of the disease include the following:
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
The above symptoms are difficult to diagnose because they are so indicative of dozens of other illnesses. Of all the people infected with Chagas disease, nearly one-third of them develop chronic symptoms, which can include intestinal complications and even cardiac complications.
These cardiac and intestinal symptoms don’t often manifest until years after a person is first infected by a bug bite. Consult a physician immediately if any symptoms of Chagas disease are present.
Do Boxelders Bite?
However, in very rare cases, people have reported an eastern boxelder bug bite or sting. Boxelder bugs are not known to carry diseases, so even in cases of a boxelder bug bite, people should not be alarmed.
While the boxelder bug bite is non-existent, boxelders are still a nuisance when they invade homes. They may congregate on walls or the outsides of buildings, usually the sides that face the sun.
They are not known to cause any damages to a building’s structure, and they don’t often contaminate food. However, boxelders are still considered a nuisance. They travel in colonies of hundreds or even thousands.
Indoors, they live mostly in walls and basements, though they occasionally come out into humans’ living areas. This is especially troublesome for people who are squeamish about bugs.
The mites can sully furniture, curtains and other household items with their excrement. When squashed, they give off a strong, unpleasant odor.
Large numbers of the dead bugs’ carcasses may accumulate in houses. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t breed indoors. If trapped inside a building, they die.
In cases where large amounts of boxelders have entered a building, the source of entry should be located. The entry source is usually the space behind a baseboard or a space through a window or screen.
They may also enter from the space around exhaust fans. The warmth from ceiling lights sometimes attracts them. When the source of entry to a home is located, the entry point should be sealed to prevent them from escaping.
Then, use a vacuum to suck them out. Both the living and the dead can he removed with a vacuum.
Boxelders suck the juices from boxelder trees and feed off the other tree parts, such as leaves. However, in most cases they do only minimal damage to their host trees.
Some fruits also serve as food for boxelders. In most cases, boxelders do only minimal and cosmetic damage to these fruits.
How to get Rid of Boxelder Bugs
Though some people believe their home to be free of holes and cracks, sometimes they overlook places where mites and other animals can enter. Be sure to do the following to prevent entry:
- Install door sweeps on any doors leading outside
- Seal holes and cracks around wiring and plumbing
- Fix damaged windows and screens
- Properly install or repair vents and roof cracks
- Repair any loose boards or sidings on a building
In order to control these insect, it is also important to keep outdoor property clean to destroy a potential bug home. Boxelders sometimes spend the winter burrowed under rock piles, boards, debris and leaves near houses.
For this reason, homeowners should keep their yards raked and remove any debris, boards or weeds around the house. Boxelders can be drowned, so homeowners can use heavy streams of water to wash them off trees and walls.
Extermination companies may remove them using either chemical or non-chemical products and methods.
When working with chemicals, all warnings on product labels must be understood and adhered to. It is best to have chemicals administered by a pest control professional.
Spray for Boxelder Bugs/Control Pest
Some insecticides are helpful in the fight against boxelder infestation, especially when sealing cracks in the building is difficult or impossible. These insecticides can be sprayed outdoors, but users must be careful.
Chemicals from the insecticides can wash down storm drains and contaminate rivers and streams. Homeowners should consult a professional whenever chemical treatment is needed.
Another reason insecticides are not as effective is that they lose their power after a few days, and they must often be sprayed multiple times to produce a sufficient amount to control pest.
While spraying for the critters indoors might kill them, their dead carcasses are also a source of food for other opportunistic animals and mice who prey on them.
Attracting other critters into a home can be even more troublesome, especially if these opportunistic creatures lay eggs indoors and infest the building.
Spraying pesticides indoors is not recommended. They are poisonous and should be handled and stored with extreme care. All safety labels should be read and understood before using pesticides.
Pesticides should be stored in labeled containers. Keep them away from children, pets and other animals on the property, such as livestock.
Empty containers must be thrown away promptly and safely to ensure they do not contaminate vegetation and water. If a homeowner has questions, he or she should consult a professional for information about how to properly dispose of pesticides.
A good way to eliminate boxelders is to use a shop vacuum to suck the bug colonies from windowsills and the exterior of houses. Use a bag-less vacuum with a wet-dry canister.
Put a tiny bit of soapy water in the bottom of the vacuum. This soapy water will suffocate the boxelders. This method can also be used to destroy colonies that inhabit spaces behind walls.
Sprinkling Borax at the bottoms of windowsills and around doors can dissuade boxelders from entering a building.
Consult a supply store or exterminator for information on boxelder bug killer.
Hot water around 160 degrees Fahrenheit is also known to kill boxelders. However, sprayers should take precautionary measures to insure that they are not burned.
Only spray hot water outside a building. Never spray boiling hot water indoors. Moderately warm water can be used to spray the outsides of buildings and boxelder trees.This water, while not scalding hot, might discourage boxelders from moving indoors.
However, the bugs are able to fly anywhere from a few blocks to a couple of miles, so even if a homeowner destroys boxelders on their property, the insects can still fly over from a neighbor’s trees.
Thus, tree removal is only recommended in cases where infestation is severe and only one or two boxelder trees are located in an area.