How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs: Fast and Effective Solutions

Boxelder bugs can be quite a nuisance during the warmer months, as they tend to gather around homes and other buildings.

Although they don’t cause significant damage, their presence can be rather unpleasant due to the bad odor they release when crushed.

So, if you find yourself dealing with these pesky insects, it’s important to know a few effective strategies to keep them at bay.

These bugs are closely related to stink bugs and cicadas, and can be found in various stages of development throughout the summer.

One of the most effective ways to reduce their presence is by tackling their preferred habitat, which usually involves the presence of boxelder trees.

If boxelder trees are present on your property, consider removing them to make the area less hospitable for the bugs.

There are other steps you can take in addition to tree removal, such as keeping the area around your home free of leaves, weeds, and debris.

A clean, well-maintained yard makes it less likely for boxelder bugs to congregate around your home’s foundation.

Washing the bugs off the sides of your home with a stream of water can also help, particularly when it’s cool outside to prevent them from flying away.

What Are Boxelder Bugs?

Identifying Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs are small, black insects with distinctive red markings on their bodies. They have six legs and two wings, which allow them to fly. Some key features include:

  • Black body with red markings
  • Six legs
  • Two wings

Boxelder Bug Life Cycle

The life cycle of boxelder bugs consists of two main stages: nymphs and adults. Nymphs are immature bugs that gradually develop into adults through a process called molting.

  1. Nymphs: Bright red when they first hatch, changing to red and black as they grow larger
  2. Adults: Black with red markings, fully developed wings, and capable of reproduction

Species: Boisea Trivittata and Boisea Rubrolineata

There are two primary species of boxelder bugs, Boisea trivittata and Boisea rubrolineata. Both species share similar features, but there are some differences. Here is a comparison table of these species:

Feature Boisea Trivittata Boisea Rubrolineata
Common Name Eastern Boxelder Bug Western Boxelder Bug
Distribution Eastern United States Western United States
Primary Host Plants Female boxelder trees Female boxelder trees, occasionally maple and ash

These species of boxelder bugs are generally considered to be nuisance pests that can invade homes in large numbers.

Understanding their characteristics can help in developing strategies to manage their populations.

Boxelder Bugs Habitat

Boxelder Trees and Their Impact

Boxelder bugs are primarily attracted to boxelder trees, especially the female ones.

Female boxelder trees are seed-bearing, which provides an ample food source for these insects.

They feed on leaves, tender twigs, and developing seeds by sucking the sap from them. Male trees are less attractive to boxelder bugs, as they do not produce seeds.

Ash Trees and Maples

Boxelder bugs may also be found in ash and maple trees. In heavily infested areas, these insects occasionally associate themselves with ash (Fraxinus spp.) and maple (Acer spp.) trees.

Although boxelder bugs prefer boxelder trees, ash and maples serve as alternative habitats if boxelder trees are scarce.

Seasonal Behaviour: Fall, Winter, and Spring

Boxelder bugs exhibit specific behavioral patterns depending on the season.

In late summer, they begin to sense the changing seasons and congregate in large numbers on the south side of trees and buildings.

Some key points about their seasonal behavior:

  • Fall: Boxelder bugs gather to seek warmth and shelter for the winter months. They may enter homes, causing a nuisance to homeowners.
  • Winter: Once inside a warm environment, boxelder bugs hibernate and stay inactive until spring arrives.
  • Spring: As temperatures rise, boxelder bugs become active again, seeking out boxelder, maple, and ash trees for food and breeding.
Season Behavior
Fall Congregate and seek warmth/shelter
Winter Hibernate
Spring Become active, feed, and breed

In summary, it is essential to understand the habitat preferences and seasonal behaviors of boxelder bugs to effectively manage and control their populations.

Problems Caused By Boxelder Bugs

Infestation and Large Groups

Boxelder bugs, primarily feeding on female and seed-bearing boxelder trees, can also infest nearby ash and maple trees, as well as fruits of raspberry and strawberry plants 1.

These nuisance insects often gather in large groups, particularly on the south side of trees and buildings 2, during the hotter and drier summers 3.

Stains and Unpleasant Odor

When crushed, boxelder bugs release a bad odor 4, causing a pervasive unpleasant smell in infested areas.

Additionally, their excrement can potentially stain surfaces 5. For example:

  • Stained curtains
  • Discolored upholstery

How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs

Health Concerns and Potential Risks

Although boxelder bugs are not known to bite or sting humans, there may still be some health concerns associated with their presence:

  • Puncture wounds from their piercing-sucking mouthparts 4
  • Potential risks of infection or diseases if their feces contaminate surfaces

Moreover, even though they are not poisonous or toxic, their large numbers make them problematic nuisance insects, often invading homes and other buildings 2.

How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs

Vacuuming and Vacuum Cleaner Use

Vacuuming: Use a vacuum cleaner to remove boxelder bugs, especially large clusters of them.

Dispose of the vacuum bag or empty the canister outside, away from the home, to prevent reinfestation.

Pros:

  • Quick and easy method
  • No chemicals needed

Cons:

  • Must be done repeatedly
  • Not effective for preventing reinfestation

Organic Methods: Diatomaceous Earth and Traps

  • Diatomaceous Earth (DE): This is made from fossilized remains of microalgae, and it damages the exoskeleton of insects, leading to dehydration and death. Sprinkle DE around entry points and affected areas.
    • Pros: Organic, safe for plants, and effective
    • Cons: Needs to be reapplied after rain or watering, and not effective on eggs
  • Traps: Use sticky traps or homemade traps with water and soap to catch boxelder bugs. Place traps near plants or entry points.
    • Pros: Organic, reusable, and non-toxic
    • Cons: May catch non-target insects, and not effective on eggs

Following these methods can help you manage and reduce boxelder bug populations around your home and garden. Remember to target entry points and affected areas for best results.

Natural Predators of Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs, while a nuisance to many homeowners, are a part of the natural food chain and have their own set of predators.

Utilizing these natural enemies can be an eco-friendly and effective way to control boxelder bug populations.

Birds: Several bird species feed on boxelder bugs. Robins, sparrows, and mockingbirds are known to feast on these insects, especially during their nymph stage.

By creating a bird-friendly environment in your yard, such as installing bird feeders or bird baths, you can attract these natural predators.

Do Boxelder Bugs Bite

Predatory Beetles: Certain beetles, like the wheel bug and soldier beetles, are known to prey on boxelder bugs.

These beetles can be beneficial insects to have in your garden, as they target various pests.

Spiders: Spiders are generalist predators and will consume boxelder bugs if they come across them.

Orb-weaving spiders, in particular, can trap boxelder bugs in their intricate webs.

Praying Mantises: These insects are voracious predators and will consume a variety of pests, including boxelder bugs.

By encouraging the presence of these natural predators, you can establish a balanced ecosystem in your yard, reducing the need for chemical interventions.

Remember, however, that while these predators can help control boxelder bug populations, they might not eliminate the problem entirely, especially in areas with large infestations.

Insecticides and Pesticides

In case the infestation has really got out of hand, you can use chemical methods.

You can use Pyrethrin-based insecticides to eliminate these bugs. These target boxelder bugs and are safe for use around gardens and plants.

We would, however, advise against this option because not only does it cause chemicals to get into your home, it also eliminates beneficial insects from your garden.

Safe Disposal of Boxelder Bugs

Once you’ve managed to gather a significant number of boxelder bugs, either by vacuuming, trapping, or other means, it’s crucial to dispose of them in a manner that’s safe for both the environment and other animals.

Freezing: After vacuuming up the bugs, you can seal the vacuum bag or the contents of the canister in a plastic bag and place it in the freezer for at least 24 hours. This method ensures the bugs are killed without the use of chemicals.

Soapy Water: If you’ve trapped the bugs using a water trap, adding a few drops of dish soap can help kill them. The soapy water breaks down their exoskeleton, causing them to perish.

Sealed Bags: If you’ve collected the bugs manually, place them in a plastic bag, seal it tightly, and leave it in the sun. The heat will naturally kill the bugs inside. Once they’re dead, you can safely dispose of the bag in your trash.

Avoid Crushing: While it might be tempting to simply crush the bugs, this can release the unpleasant odor they produce. It’s best to use one of the methods above to avoid the smell.

Composting: Dead boxelder bugs can be added to compost piles. Their bodies will break down naturally, adding nutrients to the compost.

When disposing of boxelder bugs, it’s essential to avoid using chemicals or methods that might harm other animals or the environment.

The goal is to manage the boxelder bug population without negatively impacting the surrounding ecosystem.

Preventing Boxelder Bug Infestations

Sealing Cracks and Openings

One of the steps to prevent boxelder bugs from entering your home is to seal cracks and openings around your house.

Examine the exterior walls, foundation, and eaves for any gaps or cracks. Use caulk to seal these openings, ensuring that the bugs cannot enter your home through them.

Checking Doors, Windows, and Vents

Inspect your doors, windows, and vents for any gaps or damaged screens that can allow boxelder bugs to infiltrate your home. Install door sweeps and weatherstripping to eliminate gaps below doorways.

Replace or repair damaged screens on windows and vents, adding an extra layer of defense against these pests.

Maintaining Gardens and Fruit Trees

Boxelder bugs are primarily attracted to boxelder trees, but they can also be found on maple, ash, and some fruit trees.

To keep their population in check, regularly maintain your garden and fruit trees.

Prune your fruit trees to remove any dead or dying branches, and keep the area around them clean, limiting available hiding places for the bugs.

A well-maintained garden reduces the number of hiding spots for boxelder bugs and keeps your fruit trees healthy.

In conclusion, by sealing cracks and openings, checking doors, windows, and vents, and maintaining gardens and fruit trees, you can significantly reduce the chances of boxelder bug infestations.

Prevention is always better than dealing with an existing infestation, so following these steps will help keep your home bug-free.

Conclusion

Boxelder bugs, while harmless, can be a significant nuisance when they gather around homes and buildings.

Recognizing their distinct red and black markings and understanding their life cycle can aid in effective management.

While they primarily feed on boxelder trees, they can also be found on ash and maple trees.

Various methods, from vacuuming to using diatomaceous earth, can help in controlling their population.

Prevention, such as sealing cracks and maintaining gardens, remains the best strategy to keep these bugs at bay.

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.unh.edu/resource/boxelder-bug-fact-sheet
  2. https://extension.psu.edu/boxelder-bug 2
  3. https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-news/boxelder-bug-boom
  4. https://extension.umn.edu/nuisance-insects/boxelder-bugs 2
  5. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74114.html

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about boxelder bugs. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Boxelder Bug

what kind of bug is this?
I have hundreds of these bugs around my house in a Milwaukee WI suburb. Many of my friends report these too. I never recall seeing these before this year. Can you identify this?
Thanks,
Jim

Hi Jim,
We are getting numerous requests daily for the identification of the Boxelder Bug. In an attempt to reduce incoming mail, we now have one prominently featured at the top of our homepage.

Letter 2 – Boxelder Bug

beetle?
We just moved from NY to Michigan. We have been here about a month, and then suddenly our yard seems to be infested with these red and black insects. They seem to congregate underneath our windows and between panels on the siding of our house. Their bodies measure about 1.5 cm, and when they fly their bodies appear bright red. Could you help me identify them?
Thanks,
Amy G in Kalamazoo, MI

Hi Amy,
Boxelder Bugs are not beetles but true bugs. They often form huge aggregations.

Letter 3 – Boxelder Bug

Attack of the beetles!
Bugman –
Could you please help identify these critters? They come out in the warmth of the sun – the nice the day, the more of them there are. And they are seemingly multiplying!!!! We live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Thanks,
John

Hi John,
This is not a beetle but a Boxelder Bug. They form large aggregations. We have several advertisers on the left side of our homepage that advertise remedies.

Letter 4 – Boxelder Bug

Just wanted to say, thanks for the id (and I bought a bamboo t-shirt)
I just learned from WhatsThatBug.com that I have Boxelder bugs in my house. I learned that these bugs won’t hurt my house. That takes a load off my mind. Thanks much. And I bought a blue bamboo tshirt just because it sounded interesting. I hope it helps your website.
Ben in DC

Hi Ben,
Glad we could be helpful. Also, it is nice to know that your purchase will generate some revenue for our generous web host.

Letter 5 – Boxelder Bug

repeat, got closeups of beetle
OK. I have been online for 2 hours. I am a teacher, and a very good internet detective. I looked through all your beetles, and checked cockroaches……whew…..and did not see this insect. I have dealt with the asian lady beetle in my log home for several winters and was very pleased that the numbers seem to have decreased quite a bit this year.

Now I have been smashing (sorry if you love bugs) left and right. I collected insects as a youngster and had the biggest collection in 10th grade biology! Aside from the local library (which will be my next visit) I am currently stumped. I am a teacher and have borrowed the digital camera for Christmas vacation, so I will do my best to get a photo.

A couple photos didn’t load, so pardon me if this is a repeat, but I am very curious if I should worry about these guys since we do have an all wood home. As I think back, I don’t know if they appeared before or after I brought in several antique shipping crates as decoration. Our home is 2 X 6 frame with kiln dried half logs inside and out.

I am tolerant of most critters and don’t get too excited. My concern would be the structural integrity of the house, and obviously any health concerns. I realize you are busy, but since I saw similar beetles, but nothing quite like this, I thought it was worth a try. Thanks much. I bookmarked your page for future reference. I am figuring this all out, so I hope you can let me know if the images were viewable. I am on a Mac (art teacher) so I hope it works.
Happy New Year
Jeanne

Hi Jeanne,
These are not beetles which have chewing mouthpart. They are True Bugs with sucking mouthparts. They are Boxelder Bugs and will not harm the integrity of your home. They often seek shelter to hibernate over winter, forming huge aggregations. In the garden, they infest trees like boxelder and maple, and we recommend spraying them with soapy water to control their numbers. Not a good idea indoors though. Your images opened beautifully as we are art teachers who also use Macs.
.

Letter 6 – Boxelder Bug

bug in PA
Help !
My home is being invaded by this unknown bug ! I live in Southwestern PA, in the country, and this bug shows up everywhere in our house. Tonight I found in a pan of cornbread that had saran wrap covering it. It crawls on the walls, the carpet and flys too, although I don’t see it fly often, and they tend to be around the windows. Do you know what it is???
Suzy

Hi Suzy,
This is a Boxelder Bug. If the letters we receive are any indication, Boxelder Bugs are the bane of many homemakers’ existance. There are numerous online claims to rid homes of Boxelder Bugs, including some of our advertisers. Boxelder Bugs will not harm your nor your home. They tend to migrate indoors at the approach of cold weather, seeking shelter from the elements.

Letter 7 – Boxelder Bug

a bug from Eastern Ontario
Hi,
We had thousands of these insects on our old wooden house in the fall, clustered in little groups. Now in winter, they’re showing up inside too.Is there anything we should know about them? Will they eat our garden, our socks, our house? Or can we live in harmony with them?
Rose

Hi Rose,
Boxelder Bugs form large aggregations on boxelder, maple and other trees. They are a nuisance in the home since they seek shelter when cold weather arrives. They will not harm your home. You should be able to find many claims online, including some of our advertisers, who guarantee to rid you of Boxelder Bugs. We have heard that spraying them with soapy water is very effective.

Letter 8 – Boxelder Bug

WTB
hi bugman,
i found your page cause I want to know what this bug is? They’re coming in through the bathroom skylight. Must be a crack between it and the roof or something. anyway. do you knopw what they are? thanks,
dave

Hi Dave,
We receive numerous requests for the identification of Boxelder Bugs, generally in the fall when they form large aggregations on sunny walls of buildings, and in the winter when they seek shelter indoors because of the cold.

Letter 9 – Boxelder Bug

Subject: Unknown true bug
Location: Bentonville, Arkansas
December 7, 2013 8:28 am
These guys have been very common around and occasionally in my house especially in the fall. We live in a subdivision but our backyard is surrounded by forest.

This guy and another were dead on my front windowsill by December 6. I feel like I saw live ones during a recent warm snap. Today the temperature was as low as one degree F. This may be why they are dead now.
Signature: Adam Schaffer

Boxelder Bug
Boxelder Bug

Dear Adam,
We often get reports of Eastern Boxelder Bugs,
Boisea trivittata, like the one in your photograph entering homes to hibernate when the weather cools down.  Boxelder Bugs are benign creatures, but they can make a nuisance of themselves if they are plentiful.  See BugGuide for additional information on Eastern Boxelder Bugs.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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