Firebugs are relatively new in the US, and there are lots of questions about them in people’s minds, but the foremost one is: how to get rid of firebugs. We answer this in the blog below.
Nobody likes nuisance pests, and finding a new species of bugs gathering together in huge numbers in your home can be especially unnerving.
Since you’re here on this page, it is likely that there are firebugs gathering in your home, and you can’t figure out what works best to get rid of them. Don’t worry; we are here to do exactly that.
Also known as pyrrhocorid bugs, firebugs are the most common species under the insect family Pyrrhocoridae, which comprises more than 300 different insects.
They are not particularly dangerous, but they tend to gather in thousands under the base of trees, and the sight can be pretty frightening if you don’t know what you are dealing with.
Let’s find out more about these bugs and how to deal with them.
What Are They?
Firebugs, or Pyrrhocoris apterus, are an invasive species of insects in North America.
Although you may have come across them only recently, you might be familiar with other insects that share the same order as firebugs.
Box elder bugs, elm seed bugs, and squash bugs are among them, all three of which are well-known pests.
Thankfully, firebugs aren’t a serious pest and won’t damage your garden, though they can be a nuisance in your home.
These bugs are gregarious; you may find them gathered together in one place. They don’t like to stay alone for too long.
What Do They Look Like?
You shouldn’t have much trouble identifying firebugs, thanks to their unique appearance. They feature a red body with black dots on their red back.
Firebugs have some triangular and crescent-shaped symbols on their bodies that further add to their distinct look.
They also feature a black trapeze set on a red background around the neck.
They grow up to 0.3 inches to 0.7 inches and may or may not have wings. However, the winged firebugs are also incapable of flight; you don’t have to worry about them buzzing around your house.
Where Are They Found?
As mentioned earlier, firebugs aren’t native to North America. You’ll find most of the firebug population in Europe, where they’re originally from.
They didn’t appear in the US until 2008, and their first appearance was recorded in Salt Lake County, Utah.
Although we aren’t sure how they spread to North America, the bugs may have been shipped in with imported plant material.
Over the years, European firebugs have spread over to other parts of Utah and even Toronto.
You’ll usually find them on the trunk of host trees or the ground near them. Common hosts include linden trees, hibiscus shrubs, and horse chestnuts.
Why Are They Pests?
If you’re worried about your garden or houseplants, you can relax knowing that firebugs don’t cause any damage to plants.
They mostly feed on leaf litter and other types of plant residue by sucking out the plant sap and other liquids inside them.
Firebugs are omnivorous, as they also feed on other insects and their eggs. So they aren’t pests in the traditional sense – they don’t cause any harm.
They’re a nuisance pest species, posing a problem merely with their irritating presence, especially when they start to gather in big numbers.
They sometimes secrete an extremely stinky substance, especially when threatened.
A firebug’s secretion can also leave stains on fabrics like clothes, curtains, and upholstery. However, you should note that these bugs don’t go indoors very often.
How To Locate Them?
If you start finding firebugs in your home, it’s a good idea to locate where they are congregated and eliminate them at the source.
You’ll usually find firebug groups at the base of host trees, especially when they multiply in spring. It’s around this time that they come out after overwintering through the cold months.
Check tree trunks, stone walls, or the walls of your house – you may find them gathered together to stay warm or mate.
How To Control Them Naturally?
When it comes to eliminating firebugs, remember not to crush them as it would cause them to release a foul odor. The easiest and safest ways to control firebugs are the natural methods. Here are a few ways to go about it:
Spray them with cold water
Firstly, these bugs prefer hot and dry environments. Spraying them with cold water for a couple of days is an effective way to get rid of them.
Use a powerful jet from a garden hose to blow them out of their hiding places. Firebugs also drown easily, which is another way to get rid of them.
Spray soapy water
Although the above-mentioned method is effective, a powerful jet of water can potentially damage your plants.
If the bugs are hiding near vulnerable plants, you can use a soapy water solution instead. Put it in a spray bottle and spray it on the firebugs – that should kill them within a few minutes.
In case you find red firebugs in your home, you can use a vacuum cleaner to dispose of them. This method is especially helpful when there’s a group of firebugs, and you don’t want them to escape away.
Predators of Firebugs
You might be wondering about natural ways to get rid of them, such as bringing in beneficial insects or predators of these bugs.
Thanks to their stinky secretion, firebugs have no predators in nature. Although it isn’t toxic, the secretion makes the bug completely inedible, and the smell wards off its enemies.
Predators of similar size can even get temporarily paralyzed by the secretion.
Younger animals unfamiliar with firebugs often eat them out of ignorance, but they never repeat the mistake.
Besides, the red and black color combination acts as a warning signal and helps deter most predators.
You may use narrow-spectrum chemical insecticides from specialized stores to treat a firebug infestation.
However, we wouldn’t recommend this at all due to the involved hazards and side effects.
As you know, chemical pesticides can be toxic to pets and children. Besides the firebugs, the pesticide would also kill bumblebees and other beneficial insects.
These firebugs don’t pose much of a threat to humans, so there’s no need to get desperate and use chemical insecticides.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do you do for firebugs?
The easiest way to get rid of firebugs is to shoot them with a jet of cold water if they’re outdoors. You may also spray them with soapy water using a commercially available spray bottle instead.
For firebugs that make it to your home, use a vacuum cleaner. Seal up wall cracks and openings through which they can make their way indoors.
How do I permanently get rid of boxelder bugs?
The only way to get rid of boxelder bugs permanently is to remove or replace seed-bearing boxelder trees.
This is because the seeds are their most preferred food source and attract them to your property.
Other methods of box elder bug control include spraying them with soapy water and treating the perimeter of your home with diatomaceous earth or residual insecticides.
What attracts box elder bugs?
As their name indicates, box elders are primarily drawn to box elder trees.
They feed mostly on the seeds, although they also like soft twigs, flowers, and newly grown leaves of box elder trees. These bugs prefer cool but sunny environments.
Do firebugs damage plants?
Firebugs do not damage living plants in any way. They feed mostly on decaying plant residue, such as leaf litter.
Hence, they don’t pose a threat to your garden or houseplants. It’s only their foul odor, the stains they leave, and their tendency to congregate in large numbers that make them a nuisance.
Are firebugs invasive?
They are invasive in North America, but they are not particularly fond of coming indoors into houses.
While they are a well-known species in many parts of the world, they have only started to be found here after 2008, when they were first spotted in Salt Lake County, Utah.
Since firebugs don’t damage plants, pose a threat, or cause any structural damage, you need not worry much about them.
Just get rid of the ones that get inside your home since they can leave behind foul odors and stains. Still, if their numbers grow too much for your liking, you now know how to deal with them.
Thank you for reading!
Our readers have been regularly checking in with us about firebugs and how to get rid of them over the years.
These bugs are spreading in both the US and UK and their habit of gathering in large numbers alarms most people who find them in their homes.
Below is a cross-section of emails from startled readers and what methods they have been adopting in their gardens or yards to get rid of them.
Do read them to figure out if any of the ways work for you as well!
Letter 1 – Red Bugs in California
Red and black insect Location: Hemet California September 4, 2011 9:09 pm PLEASE identify this bug for me. I have about 25,000 of them in my acre backyard. I need to know if their dangerous, if i need to get an exterminator or what. Please help me!!!! Signature: Bug information?? The quality of your photograph is not ideal for discerning details, but the photo of the single insect you have attached appears to be a nonnative Red Bug, Scantius aegyptius, a species known to form large aggregations containing individuals from various stages ranging from young nymphs through mature individuals. BugGuide has reported this invasive exotic species is already established in Southern California. Our first reports of this nonnative invasion date back to 2009. The University of Riverside has a nice page on this Invasive Exotic species.
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 – Old World Red Bug found in California
Milkweed Tiki-bug Location: Thousand Oaks, California December 5, 2010 4:39 pm I’m 93.62% sure this is a milkweed bug. What caught my eye was how the pattern looked just like a carved Tiki. Thought you’d enjoy the image. Signature: Adriano Dear Adriano, This insect, Pyrrhocoris apterus, is commonly called the Firebug and it is a Red Bug, not a Milkweed Bug. It is a European species and you can read about it on British Bugs. It has recently been reported from Utah on BugGuide, but your letter is the first indication we have that this European import has been found in California. Adriano provides a correction Thank you for pointing me in the right direction. After a bit of deeper searching, prompted by your reply, I think the bug is actually Scantius aegyptius – still in the family Pyrrhocoridae. Pyrrhocoris apterus and Scantius aegyptius are extremely similar. The most telling mark, I think, is that Pyrrhocoris apterus has an additional black spot on either side of the large triangular marking where in Scantius aegyptius they are missing. Also, aegyptius is actually found in nearby Los Angeles County, according to CISR: http://cisr.ucr.edu/red_bug.html “Scantius aegyptius, an old world pyrrhocorid bug, native to the eastern Mediterranean region, was documented for the first time in North America in Orange County during June of 2009”. So, this may be the first report from Ventura County. I’ll send a note of it to CISR. Thanks so much for your help! And thanks for encouraging insect awareness! All my best! –Adriano Thanks for the correction Adriano.