Box Elder Bug Control: Protect Your Home
- My Home: On warm sunny days I like to warm myself in the sun, usually you will find me on the south and west sides of your house. I will only live in places that have a box elder or maple tree close by.
- What I eat: I normally feed on the leaves and seedpods of the box elder tree or silver maple, but I cause little damage to the trees.
- What I look like: I am about ½ of an inch long, black body with three red lines just behind my head.
- How I am born: I go through three stages of development: egg, nymph and adult. My egg is laid on the leaves, branches, or trunk of the box elder tree. It takes only a few days for my egg to hatch and another 45 – 60 days to develop into an adult. I will hibernate during the winter and live about one year.
- Fun Facts: The boxelder lays its eggs almost exclusively on the female box elder tree, which produces the flowers and seeds during the spring. They are not harmful, just nuisance insects because they like to winter inside the warmth of a house. They can also be seen in he late summer under box elder trees by the thousands, getting prepared to hibernate
Scientific Classification: Boisea trivittata
What Do They Look Like?
Size: Usually around 1/2 an inch long, the box elder bug is also about 1/3 of an inch wide and flat in appearance.
Color: Distinctive because of the three reddish-orange lines that form an X on the back of the insect when the wings are flat, the box elder bug is otherwise mostly black in color.
Characteristics: Active throughout the summer months, box elders possess piercing/sucking mouthparts that they use for feeding rather than biting humans or other animals in self-defense. The forewings may appear leathery in texture and are rimmed by red markings. Immature nymphs are wingless but, for the most part, resemble adults of the species, if a bit more red.
Eponymously named for their primary plant host, the boxelder tree, box elder bugs feed on a variety of plant life but primarily maple trees. Mainly a nuisance pest to homeowners, the insect becomes an irritant by attempting to overwinter in manmade structures. Even though they regularly seek shelter indoors during the colder months, box elders will not reproduce or feed inside human habitations, despite the common fears of homeowners.
Found as far west as Nevada, the box elder bug occurs throughout the Eastern United States and mainly lives in close relation to populations of boxelder trees.
What Do They Eat?
Made up of a variety of plant sources, the diet of the box elder bug primarily consists of the seeds and fruit of the boxelder tree. The insects also feed on maple trees as well as different fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches, and strawberries. Additionally, box elders have been known to eat dead honey bees.
Eggs are typically laid in the cracks and crevices of boxelder tree bark in the spring. After hatching, the emergent box elder nymphs feed on foliage and seeds by inserting their piercing-sucking mouthparts into the tissue of the seeds of the tree. The developing insects pass through five instars before fully maturing, with two separate generations usually produced each year.
- Look for box elder bugs congregating on south-facing walls in search of heat as the months get colder.
- Indoors, the pests are often seen around windows and doors.
- Boxelder trees on the property will attract the insects.
Problems Caused by Box elder Bugs
Though box elder bugs do not bite, cause structural damage, or eat human foods when overwintering indoors, the mere presence of the insects may become a true nuisance to homeowners. Avoid squishing the box elder bug, as it may leave an unsightly stain. The feeding habits of the nuisance pests rarely result in significant damage to the host plant, though larger infestations may become more noticeable and feed with more voracity.
Signs of Infestation
When looking for heat, the box elder bug may enter homes as the weather worsens, ostensibly to find shelter and wait for spring. The insects often appear along window sills and around doorways, not to mention additional points of entry to the home, such as foundation cracks and chimneys. Areas of direct sunlight may also become a place of congregation, leading to large numbers of the insect all in one place.
The best course of action to exclude box elders from entering the home is to take preventative measures. This includes, but is not limited to, covering vents, repairing window and door screens, and caulking openings in the foundation and around plumbing, electrical conduits, and windows. Furthermore, any wood piles, overgrown plants, and mulch placed too close to the home may provide hiding places for the pests.
Tips for Removal from Home
Avoid stepping on or squashing the box elder bug, as the insect may stain carpets, other fabrics, or walls. Simply vacuuming the insect up may prove effective instead. For large-scale box elder infestations, a pest control professional may need to come to the home in order to eliminate the unwelcome visitors completely.
Are Box Elders Surrounding Your House?
If box elders are making their way to your building, here’s what you need to know:
- Box elders won’t feed on your stock or supplies
- Box elders won’t bite or cause health and safety issues
- However, they can show up in the thousands during spring
- Businesses of all kinds can experience a box elder infestation
- If your office is sunny, you may be in trouble – box elders seek heat
- Sometimes box elders get inside as they emerge after overwintering