Elm Seed Bug Vs Box Elder Bug: The 3 Big Differences

There are two very common pests in North American homes in the summer and spring seasons. In this article, we compare the elm seed bug vs box elder bug.

Few things are more frustrating than finding your home taken over by nuisance pests.

Especially with the arrival of the warm weather, box elder bugs and elm seed bugs are a common sight in homes. 

The two pests are similar in several aspects, and homeowners often find it challenging to distinguish them from each other.

If you came here trying to find out more about how they differ, rest assured that you won’t be disappointed.

What Are The Similarities?

Elm seed bugs and box elder bugs are quite similar in several ways, which we’ll quickly go over:

  • Appearance: The two bugs even look somewhat similar to each other, with dark bodies and red or orange markings. Unless you specifically know how they look, it can be hard to differentiate.
  • Scent glands: Both these bugs release a pungent odor when attacked or killed. Like the infamous stink bug, they have scent glands that allow them to do this.
  • No structural damage: Neither of the two pests causes any structural damage. They don’t pose a threat to your furniture or other belongings.
  • Fecal stains: One of the biggest problems with the elm seed bug and the boxelder bug is that they leave dirty fecal spots all over. When these bugs infest your home, you’ll start noticing these fecal stains on the walls, curtains, and other surfaces.
  • Non-venomous: Thankfully, neither of them is venomous. They don’t pose a direct danger to humans, and they do not bite.
  • Infestation habits: Until late summer, they continue to enter homes in large numbers. You might even find them covering the entire perimeter of your home.
  • Overwintering: Boxelder bugs and elm seed bugs aren’t active during the cold months. They enter hidden spaces like wall cracks, crevices, and leaf litter to overwinter.
  • Frequent reproduction: With three to four generations of these bugs hatching each year, they can multiply very fast. This makes their infestations particularly irritating and troublesome.
Elm Seed Bug Vs. Box Elder Bug
Western Boxelder Bug

What Are The Differences?

So, how can you differentiate between an elm seed bug and a box elder bug? Here are a few ways in which the two bugs are different from each other:

1.     Appearance

Although the two bugs are somewhat similar in appearance, you can spot the differences if you know what to look for. 

Firstly, adult elm seed bugs grow up to only a third or a fourth of an inch, while box elder bugs can grow two inches long. 

Box elder bugs have bright red or orange outlines on their backs. On the other hand, elm seed bugs have alternating red and black stripes just outside the wings.

2.     Preferred habitat

As the name suggests, elm seed bugs prefer to live and feed on elm trees besides linden and oak.

You’ll find boxelder bugs mostly on boxelder, maple, and ash trees. You can differentiate between the two bugs based on where they’re coming from and the trees around your home.

3.     The time of the year

The time of the year is a potential indicator too. In case the bugs are infesting your property, and you notice their nymphs as early as May, they’re likely elm seed bugs.

Box elder bugs don’t come out so early; you won’t usually see them until late summer.

Elm Seed Bug Vs. Box Elder Bug
Elm Seed Bug

How To Control Them?

Due to how fast both these bugs reproduce and multiply, you may not be able to get rid of them completely. However, you can control the number of elm seed bugs and box elder bugs on your property through the following means:

  • Vacuum the bugs: Using a vacuum cleaner is one of the simplest ways to get rid of a large number of bugs at the same time. When you come across a bunch of elm seed or box elder bugs, just vacuum them up.
  • Be careful what you bring home: Before you take home any firewood, carefully inspect it for bugs. Other pests besides elm seed bugs and box elder bugs might be present too.
  • Block entry points: Another important step to take is to block all access points through which the bugs might get inside your home. Install screens over your windows, as keeping them closed all the time may not be feasible. You may also place sticky traps on the window sill to trap the bugs.
  • Remove food sources: Get rid of any potential food source that might attract these pests to your property. This means you should prune elm or boxelder trees and remove volunteer ones. Keep your lawn and your gutters clean of debris and destroy elm seeds.

If it gets too bad, you might have to contact a pest control company and get them to carry out professional treatment.

Elm Seed Bug Vs. Box Elder Bug
Eastern Boxelder Bugs

Frequently Asked Questions

Are elm seed bugs the same as boxelder bugs?

Although elm seed bugs and boxelder bugs share several similarities and can be equally troublesome, they aren’t the same species. 
They are two different types of insects, with several differences to distinguish them from each other.

Do box elder bugs like elm trees?

No, if the bugs on your property are coming from elm trees, they’re likely elm seed bugs. 
Box elder bugs mostly live on box elder, maple, and ash trees. You won’t find them on elm trees.

What other bugs look like box elder bugs?

Although box elder bugs have a relatively unique appearance with their markings, they do share similarities with a few other bug species too. 
Kissing bugs, elm seed bugs, and conifer seed bugs look like box elder bugs and are often confused with each other.

What do elm seed bugs look like?

Elm seed bugs have a flat and elongated oval-shaped body, growing up to 1/3rd or 1/4th inch long. While the dorsal side of the body is dark brown, the abdomen is red on the underside. You’ll also notice alternating patterns of red/orange and black strips on the sides of the body.

Wrap Up

If you’re unfortunate enough to have an infestation of elm seed bugs or boxelder bugs in your home, remember not to squish them. 

It will only cause them to release a foul odor and make your home smelly. In case these bugs are very common in your region or you start noticing them, take preventive measures immediately. 

Remove dead elm and boxelder tree trunks, keep your yard clean, and leave no entry points. Taking these steps early on will save you the hassle of dealing with the infestation later.

Reader Emails

These two bugs are so similar that many of our veteran readers also get confused between them.

Over the years, we have got the same query several times, and we wanted to share one of the discussions with you. Do go through for a quiet chuckle!

Letter 1 – Western Conifer Seed Bug and Boxelder Bug – Two popular query subjects in the same letter


Two mysterious bugs
I have recently moved to a new property and the critters here are curious to me – I can’t figure out what they are, but I find a few every day in the house. They can fly short distances. I usually find them close to windows or wherever there is a good amount of light. I live in a fairly wooded area and very close to a river. I live in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. [first insect[: – body (excluding antenae) about 3/4 inch long. – body underneath wings is striped orange (sorry, it was hard to get a picture of that) – feisty when captured. [second insect] – body (excluding antenae) about 1/2 inch long. – body underneath wings is red (sorry, it was hard to get a picture of that) – plays dead when captured. Can you identify what these bugs?

Western Conifer Seed Bug Boxelder Bug

Hi Jim,
We know from your follow-up letter that you correctly identified both the Western Conifer Seed Bug and the Boxelder Bug from images on our site.

I kept poking around on your web site and I believe I have answered my own questions. It’s amazing how different the bugs can look while they are maturing. Your bug page had a half dozen samples of the same bugs at different stages, so I was able to make a match (I think!): image365 is a western conifer seed bug, and image368 is a box elder Am I right? Well, at least you have some more sample pictures now. Your web site is an excellent resource! Excellent work. Thanks,

Leave a Comment