How to Identify and Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs

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Whether you have a small garden or a large property, you know something about insects. Some kill our plants, others can make us sick, and then there are those that are simply a pain in the you-know-what, like box elder bugs.

Boxelder bugs are fairly easy to recognize, and if you’ve ever had an infestation in your home, you know they’re a serious nuisance. Although they won’t harm you, they can stain your clothes and furniture and fly around your food are disconcerting.

You don’t have to put up with a boxelder infestation. Here’s how to treat:


A bit about Boxelder bugs

Boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata) and box elder bugs (Boisea rubrolineata) can be found in North America and parts of South America, where it is an introduced invasive species. Wherever there are boxelder trees, it is possible to find boxelder bugs.

Although they primarily feed on boxelder trees, you can sometimes find them in your maple or ash trees as well. Here are some other facts about these common insects:

  • Boxelder bugs communicate via their scent glands and antennae
  • They are herbivores
  • They don’t carry any disease.
  • Boxelder bugs provide no benefit to your garden, but many animals feed on them
  • They can feed on and deform fruit from fruit trees

Identifying Boxelder bugs

One of the most distinctive characteristics of box elder bugs is their color. They have bright red or orange-red stripes on their backs, which makes them instantly recognizable. Their wings lay flat, forming an “X” across their backs.

In terms of size, once boxelder bugs are fully grown, they reach up to half an inch in length, with a flattened, oval-shaped body. They also have six legs and two antennae.

A group of freshly laid boxelder bug eggs begin to turn yellow and turn orange-red as the egg begins to develop. These insects like warm climates and are usually more prevalent in the spring or summer.

The eggs congregate on the leaves, pods, and flowers of boxelder trees. The reason they appear on your property is that they are looking for companions and food. Once they arrive, they remain on the trees all summer unless you intervene and get rid of them.

Are Boxelder Bugs Poisonous?

Fortunately, the risk factor associated with Boxelder bugs in your garden is quite low. That being said, you don’t want to leave them there unnoticed if you catch a few climbing your trees. Why?

Because after they hatch, they prefer to live in indoor spaces. This means that as temperatures drop towards fall, warm homes become more appealing to them and they will make their way inside as soon as they can.

Once they’re in your home, they hang out in warm places like on south-facing windows and they leave behind liquid black or brown droppings wherever they go. This can damage your carpets, curtains and furniture. yuck!

Signs of an infestation

Obviously, the first sign of a boxelder infestation is seeing the distinctive insects hanging around in or around your home or garden.

You may also see a yellow, brown, or black liquid that is insect droppings and can be traced back to the boxelder tree. Indoors, you can usually find these spots near window sills and door frames, but they can be anywhere an insect travels.

Getting Rid of Boxelder Bugs Indoors

If you discover box elder bugs living in your home, you will need to know how to get rid of them. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, and you can certainly reduce the population enough to not feel like you’re living in a horror movie.

1. Spray with dish soap

The first option for getting rid of boxelder bugs is to use mild dish soap on the bugs. You can prepare your mixture with a tablespoon of dish soap and a cup of water.

The spray should kill the bugs. And, if they don’t die, the spray will drive them away from the area and force them to go somewhere else. If you keep spraying the liquid they should eventually disappear.

However, you don’t want to spray fabric or paper because the water will damage them.

2. Clean surfaces

Boxelder bugs also like to live on hot surfaces, so a quick way to get rid of them is to clean any heat-reflecting areas. It’s also a good idea to spray the solution on your door and any cracks in your home, as this will keep them from coming inside when the weather turns cold.

3. Use a vacuum cleaner or pick them up by hand

A classic household bug-killing trick is to use your vacuum around popular areas where bugs congregate. Simply vacuum them up as you see them using your vacuum hose. If you have a vacuum cleaner with a bag, you don’t need to do anything else.

However, if you have a bagless vacuum, dispose of the insects in an airtight container or in the outdoor trash can. Otherwise, they will just come back to your house.

4. Seal windows and doors

For added protection, you can also seal windows and doors with caulk. This way the boxelder bugs won’t be able to force their way through the gaps. Making sure your home is locked will give you some peace of mind about their entry.

In addition to windows and doors, you can also seal all electrical outlets as this is where insects often enter the home. Since these areas of the house are warm, this attracts these insects and gives them an easy way to inhabit your home.

You can also sprinkle diatomaceous earth along window sills or anywhere else they enter the house.

5. Remove Boxelder Trees

Of course, you can always remove boxelder trees from your property. Although this is an extreme measure, it is a guaranteed method to protect the rest of your plants from these insects.

However, it is best to try all the other options before resorting to this drastic step.

Controlling Box Elder Insects Outdoors

Before they can get inside, these insects breed outside. You can get rid of it by doing the following:

1. Delete host trees

This may not be feasible for everyone, but if boxelder bugs are really bothering you, remove boxelder maple trees from your property.

2. Spray with oil

Spray all host trees with horticultural oil in early spring when the tree is dormant when these insects begin to emerge. This helps eliminate an infestation before it gets too big. Make sure you get up well under the gaps in the bark, because that’s where they live.

3. Spray with pyrethrins

If you’re really desperate, go ahead and spray the trees and outside of your buildings with a product that contains pyrethrins. Remember that these sprays also kill other insects, even some of the good ones, so exercise caution and only use them as a last resort.

Stop Boxelder Bugs With These Easy Steps

Compared to all the bugs and bugs you can find in your garden, boxelder bugs aren’t the worst. But, having the right methods in place in case you have to manage them protects you.

Fortunately, a simple solution of dish soap and water can be enough to eliminate crowds of these insects. Better yet, seal the cracks and gaps in your home to keep them out and out, as well as spray and vacuum them.

If all else fails, attack the infestation at the source – outside.

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