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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
Letter 1 – Mating Boxelder Bugs
Help with bugWe have been over run with these little bugs and don’t know what they are, can you help? We are in Tampa , Florida and the bugs seem to be mainly in the wood chips or tree base.
And judging by the mating pair, you will soon have even more Eastern Boxelder Bugs, Leptocoris trivittatus.
Letter 2 – Mating Boxelder Bugs
box elder bug love May 5, 2010 Not sure if you are interested in another one,but here is a picture of mating box elder bugs from our local playground. My 3 year old wanted to know why they had 2 heads, which evolved into a very interesting conversation…. Sara Bridgewater, NJ
Letter 3 – Immature Boxelder Bug
Subject: Red bodied bug on ground next to maple tree Location: Oveland Park, KS June 4, 2014 10:04 pm Dear What’s that bug, There are hundreds of these bugs on the ground next to our Red Maple tree. The body is about 1/4 inch long. I would love to know what they are (and if they are helpful or harmful or neither). Thank you and all the best, Neal Schuster Overland Park, KS Signature: Neal Schuster
Letter 4 – Mating Boxelder Bugs
Subject: More kissing bugs? Location: Pennsylvania April 20, 2016 11:11 am Hi, I sent a photo earlier today of a bug to see if it was a kissing bug. Here are a couple more photos. There are dozens of these guys all around my house. If you could help me identify them I would appreciate it. I’m terrified that they are deadly kissing bugs! There are a bunch of these on the screens outside my house. I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I have occasionally found them inside. Some are bigger without the red markings, but up too high so I can’t get a good photo. If it is a kissing bug, how worried should I be. And how should I get rid of them? Thanks! Thanks for your help! Signature: Michelle
Letter 5 – Immature Boxelder Bug
Subject: Please identify Location: Albany NY July 10, 2017 10:08 am 1/48to 3/8″ long In fkower bed near Alany NY First appeared in June. WHole bunches clustered on edging. Signature: Ann
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Western Conifer Seed Bug
what IS that? October 20, 2009 this rather large fellow was on the screen door this morning. Never saw the like before. Bill & Family Massachusettes
Letter 2 – Western Conifer Seed Bug
Large, brown bug infestation terrifying college students! October 25, 2009 Hello! We’ve been finding these large, dark brown bugs (roughing a few inches in length) all over our apartment, especially on windows and in lamps. They can crawl rather quickly, but do not fly. We’d love to get rid of them, but have no idea what they are or how to go about eliminating them! Any advice would be greatly appreciated. College Students from Massachusetts Windows, walls and lamps
Letter 3 – Western Conifer Seed Bug: and What’s That Bug? book preview. Follow up Masked Hunter
Assassin bug November 13, 2009 I was going to send you a burying beetle, but then this one popped up unexpectedly so here he is. I’ll save the burying beetle for another night. The cat loves/hates them. Loves to stalk, hates being spit on. Oroboros Denver, CO
Letter 4 – Western Conifer Seed Bug
Stink Bug December 20, 2009 This bug shows up at my parents house (the house is in a wooded area) every fall. They are pretty flat bugs and seem to crawl into the house under doors and windows. We find hundreds of them around. No one we’ve ever talked to can seem to identify them. Not even exterminators. We call them a “stink bug” because they give off a relativley fowl spell if you step on them. I would be happy to give you more details if you need. Thank you! Rob Peterson Minnesota – Subberb east of the Twin Cities – Stilwater, MN
Letter 5 – Western Conifer Seed Bug
Need insect ID January 14, 2010 My husband gets this bug on his desk in his 3rd floor attic office about once a month. It is very slow moving. We live in Woodinville, Washington which is about 20 miles east of Seattle. Susie Woodinville, Washington USA (Seattle)
Letter 6 – Western Conifer Seed Bug
Please Identify This NJ-based Insect April 1, 2010 Hello. Thank you for reviewing my request. Please assist with an identification. We have recently had a LOT of rain, and before that snow, in Northern New Jersey. I have a bathroom built just over the ground. I have seen two of these insects so far in the bathroom, so I presume they may have been living in the dirt and were “uprooted” by all the rain. They move very slowly. I am just interested to learn what they are. Thank you. Al Northern New Jersey
Letter 7 – Western Conifer Seed Bug
Is this related to your October 2010 Bug of the Month? Location: Wilmington, MA October 30, 2010 8:56 pm Hi! I have seen about dozen of these bugs around my home in the past couple months. I live in Wilmington, MA. I’ve never seen anything like this before. There was a good lull between the last one I saw and the one today. I was losing hope because I would love to have this identified. This bug doesn’t stink, that I’m aware of, though we do have a dog and two cats, so I may just be blaming a stink in the house on them! This bug is slow crawling, almost like it thinks I won’t see it if it doesn’t move/moves slowly. But once I caught it, it moved much quicker. Also, one of the bugs about a month ago did fly, which scared the bejesus out of me because I wasn’t expecting it! I hope I’m not rambling too much and provided enough information! Thanks for your help!! Signature: Christine L
Letter 8 – Whitecrossed Seed Bug in Hawaii
black redish orange bug Location: Hawaii/Oahu May 11, 2011 3:58 pm found this on my window on the 5th floor of an apt building?? what is it? and is it dangerous? i have kids.. help please..thank you. Signature: Elgee
Letter 9 – Birch Catkin Bugs
Kleidocerys resedae I think Location: Beloeil, Quebec, Canada August 23, 2011 11:52 am hello bugman, I noticed those little insects (~4mm) clustered on the end leaves of our white birch and also on the maple tree next to it, but much more so on the birch, they seem to feed off the stems or actual seeds of the tree. I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned even if that tree has been attacked by fungus in the past and is likely not going to last another decade? I found it in bugguide but not on your site, but perhaps it goes by another name? Thank you! 🙂 Signature: Frederic
Letter 10 – Giant Western Conifer Seed Bug terrorizes Michigan
the other Michigan invader? Location: Lansing, Michigan October 5, 2011 7:11 pm Hello, Since early spring, I’ve seen a certain species of insect that I’ve never seen in MI. It’s some sort of beetle, loves windows, walks extremely slow and flies when necessary. There’s been a lot of talk regarding the Stink beetle but I don’t think this the same insect. I’ve seen big ones and little one and they are everywhere. What is it? Signature: paw print
Letter 11 – Mediterranean Seed Bug
What is this? Location: Northern California November 8, 2011 10:59 pm I have found 2 of these recently on the kitchen floor and one just now crawling across the carpet! I live in Northern California and it is winter time here! Interesting pattern….but I’d rather NOT find them in my house… Cockroach or beetle??? Blegh…. Best advice on how to get rid of them? Signature: Ms. No Thank You Bugs!
Letter 12 – Whitecrossed Seed Bug
Subject: mystery bathroom bug Location: Midwest US January 7, 2013 7:50 pm Found this bug in my bathroom. Wondering what it is, and if I should worry that there are more or if it’s harmful? I live in the midwest. In an apartment. Signature: C
Letter 13 – Western Conifer Seed Bug
Subject: Name that bug Location: Waltham, MA February 28, 2013 8:24 pm We found this bug flying around our apartment in MA. Any idea what it is? Thanks. Signature: Been bugging me
Letter 14 – Elm Seed Bug Infestation in Idaho
Subject: Bug identificatio Location: Boise, Idaho July 1, 2013 3:02 pm We live in Boise, Idaho and have an infestation of these small bugs. They can fly, but we see them mainly crawling. They are outside, but are also inside our house and camper. Signature: bugged and curious
Letter 15 – Mediterranean Seed Bug
Subject: Beetle ID Location: Yuba City, CA. N of Sacramento July 2, 2013 10:04 pm what kind of bugs are these?? They are all over my yard, and a few are in the house. they are about 3/8 – 1/2 inch Signature: Scott
Letter 16 – Non-Native Dirt Colored Seed Bug: Rhyparochromus vulgaris
Subject: Help! Bug Showed Up. Location: Bend Oregon October 6, 2013 2:21 pm Can you help me identify what this bug is. I just showed up and there are hundreds of them on my front porch. They don’t bite but are a bother. Signature: Jason
Letter 17 – Stink Bug and Western Conifer Seed Bug
Subject: What is it? Location: California November 25, 2013 2:34 pm I know it’s a type of beetle but which one? I found two. I suspect they are kissing bugs. Pest control came by did an analysis on the sample and claimed common garden beetle but it doesn’t look like one. Signature: Clueplease
Letter 18 – Possibly immature Dirt Colored Seed Bug
Subject: Please help Location: Anza, CA December 28, 2013 9:12 pm I found these guys in my home. I have lived here for ten years and have never seen them before. I have taken an insect identification class before, but I am not experienced enough to figure this out. It looks like a Hemiptera of some sort. It’s about a millimeter long and it is pretty difficult to get a picture of it. It’s winter here in Southern California, and I am in the high desert. Could you please help? I don’t think it is the brown marmorated stink bug because it doesn’t have true bug characteristics and there’s no odor. I suspect it is coming in through a crack somewhere for warmth, but who knows what it is. I don’t think it is butting me or my animals because it doesn’t have apparent piercing/sucking mouthparts. Please help. Signature: Cass
Letter 19 – Probably False Chinch Bug Nymphs and Frit Fly
Subject: tiny bugs on outside walls of house Location: Phoenix AZ April 28, 2014 3:22 pm we just noticed these buggers on our outside walls. they don’t appear to fly; when i touch the wall near one, it falls,. the photo is of a bougainvillea petal floating in our pool, with what (i think?) appears to be a queen! either that, or something wanting to eat them all. please help, so we know what to do, if you can. they are getting inside one window which doesn’t seal properly and a parakeet lives near that window! thank you!! Signature: suzy
Letter 20 – Probably Immature False Chinch Bugs from Arizona
Subject: Thousands of these tiny bugs in my garden Location: Tempe, AZ April 30, 2014 7:30 pm Hello, I have a permaculture garden in the front yard. Mostly covered in wood chips and compost. I live in Tempe, Arizona. This evening, I saw thousands of these critters crawling among the rocks, concrete patio and among my sweet alyssum plants. I have a lot of kale in the yard, one watermelon patch, some cucumber, zucchini, and lots of nasturtium among other edible plants. Not sure what they are. I don’t normally bother with garden pest because I do organic gardening to avoid killing bees and pollinators. But the shear number of these bugs scared me a little bit. Please help me identify. They are tiny, the largest ones I could find is about 2mm. Attached is photo of the larger one and a group of the smaller ones, that were about 1mm. These were taken with point and shoot camera and cropped really tight to show the insects. Signature: Yes
Letter 21 – Long Necked Seed Bug
Subject: What Is This May I Ask? Location: Arkansas, USA June 5, 2014 3:24 am Found several of these around the edge of the vanity sink. Some of they have even crawled into my towels. Can you help me identify what this bug is? Signature: Lee
Letter 22 – Possibly Dirt Colored Seed Bugs in Utah
Subject: Bug everywhere Location: Roy utah November 13, 2014 8:47 am This bug has been in my house everywhere festering in Curtians blankets clothes anything! It’s making me feel like a dirty person no matter what I do I can’t get rid of them and I think they bite there was one in my daughters diaper I put on her the other day and she grabbed her privates and cried so I took her diaper off and there the bug was! Why are these is my house everywhere what can I do to keep them out! What kind of bug is it please help! Signature: Jaimie
Letter 23 – Probably Dirt Colored Seed Bugs
Subject: Tiny brown bugs everywhere! Location: Central California November 17, 2014 4:26 pm Woke up this morning to hundreds (!!!) of these little bugs at our back door. They are teeny tiny, only barely bigger than a flea. Others in the area have noticed they are swarming too, starting yesterday. If it helps any, we are located along the Central Coast of California Signature: Morgan
Letter 24 – Possibly Seed Bug Nymphs
Subject: hemipteran nymph Location: Valley View, South Australia February 27, 2015 9:58 pm I found thousands of tiny bugs climbing my back fence from the ground upwards this morning and wondered what they were. I took the attached micrograph using a USB microscope. The background grid is 5mm squares Signature: Geoff Smith
Letter 25 – Mediterranean Seed Bugs we believe
Subject: Thousands of beetles! Location: Southern California (Thousand Oaks) April 17, 2015 3:17 pm Hi, My property is covered with these tiny beetles running around – and I would like to know what they are. They vary in size from not much bigger than a flea, to about 1/4″ long. They run in sort of like “fits and spurts”, and if I gently pick one up with a tissue to bring it back outside (some are getting in the house) they leave a brownish/reddish spot on the tissue (looks like blood, but I’m pretty sure I’m not smooshing them so it is probably more of an excretion). A couple of larger ones appeared to have an “X” design on their backs. I would appreciate any help in identifying them! Sorry I can’t get a better picture. Signature: Thanks, Eve-Marier
Letter 26 – CaliforniaFalse Chinch Bugs, we believe
Subject: HELP whole ground is moving Location: West Texas May 17, 2015 11:17 am I need to see if someone could identify this bug so that I can get this under control. Had an exterminator tell me it was a chich bug and then a stink bug. My well groomed yard has none. My outside yard has weeds they were green now dead. I’ve seen some in my winow seals. they give me the chill bumps. Going out of my mind. Signature: chilledtothebone
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Mating Boxelder Bugs
Can you identify these? They showed up in our neighborhood about 4 years ago, and are prolific breeders. Their young resemble “large” aphids with orange-ish red abdomens. The adults have the same orange/red abdomen that is exposed when they take flight. In the picture attached, I believe the smaller one (on the left) is the male mating with a female. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Ron Hi Ron, The Boxelder Bug, Boisea trivittata, is one of our most frequent query subjects due to the mass aggregations they form. Though they may be a nuisance when they appear in large numbers, they are not harmful to you or your home. Your mating couple is a nice addition to our site.