What Attracts Boxelder Bugs: Top Secrets to Understand Their Behavior

Boxelder bugs, belonging to the Rhopalidae family, are often considered a nuisance due to their affinity for invading homes and buildings in search of a warm place to hibernate during the colder months.

While these insects are generally harmless, their presence can be quite bothersome, especially when they appear in large numbers. So, understanding what attracts them can help you take the necessary preventive measures.

These bugs are commonly found on boxelder, maple, and ash trees as they feed on their leaves, flowers, and seeds.

Their populations tend to increase significantly during hot, dry summers, making them more likely to search for shelter as temperatures drop.

What Attracts Boxelder Bugs
Western Boxelder Bug

In addition to their primary food sources, boxelder bugs may also be seen on certain fruit trees, such as almond, apple, cherry, peach, pear, and plum trees.

Boxelder bugs, attracted to warmth and light, often gather on the sunny side of buildings during the day. As the fall season approaches, they’ll start seeking out protected areas where they can spend the colder months hibernating.

This is why you might find them around your windows, doors, and other small cracks or spaces in your home or building.

What Are Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs are a type of insect that belongs to the Rhopalidae family, which are known as “scentless plant bugs.”

These insects are related to the Coreidae family, which includes stink bugs and squash bugs, but the boxelder bugs do not emit a strong odor like their relatives 1.

These insects have an oval-shaped body, six legs, two antennae, and red eyes. Their wings are flat and overlap each other to form an ‘X’ 5. Boxelder bugs can be identified by their distinctive adult and nymph stages.

Adult Boxelder Bugs:

  • Black with red or orange markings
  • About 1/2-inch long
  • Three stripes on the prothorax, behind the head

Nymphs (Immature Bugs):

  • Bright red when they first hatch
  • Grow larger and darker as they mature

Boxelder bugs are attracted to sunny walls and light-colored surfaces, especially on western or southern exposures 4. These insects are not harmful to humans or structures, but they can be a nuisance when they congregate in large numbers.

Eastern Boxelder Bug

Remember, boxelder bugs are most abundant during hot and dry seasons. So, it’s crucial to be aware of their presence and take appropriate measures to deter them from your living space.

Being familiar with their characteristics will help you identify and manage these harmless, yet annoying insects more effectively.

Habitat and Behavior

Boxelder bugs are attracted to specific types of trees in their environment. For example, they feed on boxelder trees and can sometimes be found on ash trees.

Additionally, these insects may feed on fruit trees, such as apple and pear trees, during the fall season.

These bugs prefer a sunny and warm environment, with their population becoming most abundant during hot weather conditions. As the seasons change, you may notice an increase in their activity.

  • Spring: Boxelder bugs emerge from their overwintering sites.
  • Summer: They feed on their favorite trees, mate, and lay eggs.
  • Fall: Boxelder bugs search for shelter to overwinter and may feed on fruit trees.
  • Winter: They hibernate in their chosen shelter.

When it comes to selecting their overwintering sites, boxelder bugs look for sheltered areas. These can include crevices in tree bark, leaf litter, or even inside your home.

They tend to gather in large numbers, especially if suitable shelter is scarce. In early fall, these bugs may swarm on the sunlit sides of buildings, seeking warmth.

So, when considering boxelder bugs and their behavior, remember that:

  • They are attracted to boxelder trees, ash trees, and sometimes fruit trees.
  • They prefer sunny, warm environments.
  • They tend to gather in large numbers to overwinter in sheltered spots.

By understanding the habitat and behavior of boxelder bugs, you can better identify their presence and take necessary preventive measures to protect your trees and home from infestations.

What Attracts Boxelder Bugs?

Boxelder bugs are attracted to a variety of factors in and around your home. In this section, we’ll cover the main attractors for these pesky insects.

Light and Warmth: Boxelder bugs are drawn to warmth and light. They often congregate on the sunny sides of buildings, particularly those with a southern or western exposure. Always check these areas for large numbers of boxelder bugs.

Cracks and Gaps: These bugs can easily find their way into your home through cracks, crevices, and gaps in walls, windowsills, and vents. To prevent an infestation, be sure to seal any potential entry points.

Western Bexelder Bug

For instance, you might find boxelder bugs:

  • Around windows
  • Near doors
  • In the corners of walls

Buildings and Homes: Boxelder bugs are often found in and around buildings, especially homes. They can be attracted to the warmth and shelter that structures provide, making it important to keep an eye out for signs of their presence.

To sum up, boxelder bugs are attracted to light, warmth, cracks, crevices, and buildings. Be vigilant by checking these areas and sealing any potential entry points to keep your home bug-free.

Food Sources

Boxelder bugs are attracted to specific types of trees for their food source. Some common trees that attract these bugs include:

  • Maple trees
  • Seed-bearing boxelder trees
  • Apple trees

Boxelder bugs primarily feed on the seed pods of boxelder trees, but they also consume maple tree seeds and, occasionally, apple tree seeds.

Making your yard less attractive to them involves considering these food sources.

For example, planting non-seed-bearing boxelder trees can reduce their presence.

Water is another element that attracts boxelder bugs. They often gather near water sources, such as puddles or birdbaths. Ensuring that stagnant water sources are minimized can help deter them.

Boxelder Bug Nymph

To summarize, some of the key food sources for boxelder bugs include:

  • Seed pods from seed-bearing boxelder trees
  • Maple tree seeds
  • Apple tree seeds

In addition to these food sources, boxelder bugs are attracted to water sources. Managing both food sources and standing water can help control their populations in your environment.

Prevention and Control

To prevent boxelder bugs, it’s essential to create an inhospitable environment for them.

One effective approach is to get rid of their food source, which mainly consists of boxelder and maple trees.

However, if removing these trees is not feasible, here are some other prevention methods:

  • Apply insecticides or pesticides on infested trees and around your home’s perimeter. Make sure to use products labeled for boxelder bug control.
  • Install screens on windows and doors to prevent their entry.
  • Seal gaps and cracks around your home using caulk and install door sweeps on exterior doors.

In case you’re already dealing with an infestation, here are some tips to control and eliminate boxelder bugs:

  • Spray them directly with a mixture of soapy water or dish soap. This solution causes bugs to suffocate and die.
  • For indoor infestations, vacuum or sweep them up and dispose of them in a sealed bag. Be sure to clean your vacuum afterwards.

By following these simple preventive measures and control methods, you can protect your home from boxelder bugs and ensure a bug-free environment.

Potential Damage of Boxelder Bugs Infestations

Boxelder bugs can be quite a nuisance when they infest homes and other buildings. They don’t usually bite humans, but let’s discuss the potential damages they can cause.

Their infestations can result in unsightly clusters inside or outside of your home.

During their intrusions, these pests may damage surfaces by leaving stains from their feces. These stains can be difficult to clean and might even leave a permanent mark.

In addition to being annoying, boxelder bugs can harm your houseplants. They feed off the sap from trees and plants, possibly causing stress and damage to them.

If left uncontrolled, these infestations may lead to weaker trees and plants in your yard.

Although boxelder bugs aren’t known to carry diseases, their presence may still decrease your overall comfort and peace of mind within your home.

To prevent and manage these infestations, consider pest-proofing your home and removing any boxelder trees nearby where they commonly feed and reproduce.

Comparison with Other Pests

Boxelder bugs, stink bugs, cicadas, and beetles are all different types of insects that can cause problems in homes and gardens. Let’s take a closer look at these pests and see how they compare to one another.

Boxelder Bugs are attracted to boxelder trees, as well as maple and ash trees. They are generally harmless, but can become a nuisance when they invade homes seeking warmth.

When disturbed, boxelder bugs may excrete a staining liquid. To curb an infestation, you can try using a soapy water solution.

Stink Bugs, as the name suggests, release an unpleasant odor when crushed or threatened. They are attracted to various plants and can damage crops. You can also use the soapy water method to collect and dispose of them.

Cicadas are known for their loud, buzzing sound. They live underground and only emerge to mate and lay eggs. Cicadas do not cause significant damage to plants and usually do not require control measures.

Beetles are a diverse group of insects, with some causing minimal problems, while others become significant pests. For instance, Japanese beetles feed on a wide range of plants, causing visible damage to leaves and flowers.

Here’s a comparison table:

InsectDamage to plantsAttracted toControl Measures
Boxelder BugsMinimalBoxelder, maple, and ash treesSoapy water solution
Stink BugsModerateVarious plantsSoapy water solution
CicadasMinimaln/aNot necessary
BeetlesVariesDepends on the speciesDepends on the beetle

In summary, boxelder bugs and the other pests mentioned each have their own unique characteristics and impacts on plants and human habitats. By understanding the differences and similarities, you can better assess and manage these unwanted visitors.

Conclusion

In summary, the key to understanding and managing boxelder bugs lies in recognizing what draws them to our spaces.

These insects are primarily attracted to boxelder, maple, and ash trees for food. They seek warmth and light, often gathering on the sunny sides of buildings, especially during cooler seasons.

Their presence is heightened in hot, dry summers, leading them to invade homes through cracks and gaps for hibernation.

Effective management involves preventive measures like sealing entry points, reducing their preferred food sources, and maintaining a dry environment to deter them.

For existing infestations, simple solutions like soapy water sprays or vacuuming can be effective.

Understanding these attractors and implementing targeted strategies can help maintain a bug-free environment, keeping these harmless yet bothersome insects at bay.

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 Bugs infest car tire!!!!: A Detailed Account

I hope that you gte this.
HI Bugman,
I hope that you get this email as I had an awfull time finding a cntact place and the where it sent me to i couldnot figure out how to send from there, i am absolutley not a novice computer person. I am not realy sure what my question is, lol but i do have some fasniating pics of some box elder infestations for you, that I thought you might like ot see.
a little history in a nutshell. I am disabled, Myhusband had a horrific accident a year and a half ago. While he was in hospiatl for 23 days. I was very busy going back and forth out of town to see him and i noticed that my gravel driveway seemed to be ” moving” it was odd, my sister asked what is that? i sai di dunno but have to go… I was in such a hurry, worry and had a child to take care of and wa sin pain. well,. a few days later i had to ask also what the heck si that? what are those? whats going on? and hwo do i get rid of them. red bugs started flocking my home. and they were all overthe door and every where. the worst part was i looked out the wiondwo through teh open garage door, about 100 ft away and saw that my husbadns tire truck, looked as if it was bleeding. well, i finlaly found out whatthey wer through your site. I love it btw, I got them under comtrol as bets i could during the time, i knwo you do not belive in exterminating but they were fallingon me when i entered the house, and it was simplky a free for all. also they were invading my out door dogs home, I captured this incidnce on digital photo or no one owuld have belived me. BUT! I assure you that i didnt do the situation justice as theywere moving so much under the gravels and even videotape didnt do our ifestation justice. it just shows a very mild case of what we were dealing with. what a nightamre. I knew they wer harmless but oh my! the amount of them i would say was aprox. 10 per gravel in my large long gravel driveway. when youkicked a stone they started flying stirring and going everywhere it was awfull, my dog was in the middle of thsi all and i had to move him away till i fixed teh problem, i also have sen and i dentified thanks to you many many spider in our middle tennessee home, I have captured many black widows borwn widows, hobos, they seem to just walk right into my door. i see them walking in. i have seen so many things here and identified the on your site. For this I thank you. It made me not fear them and i learned so very much. I do worry how safe it is with teh vast anount of hobos and widows and recluses i have here and i worry as my daughetr was also bitten i her sleep. bye an unknown spider i will also attach that pic as well. it went away but was never identified. I am quite concerned as sparying does nothing my husband and I are now both physically disabled and have tried very hard to celarout any debri and hidng places but they still come at the house non stop and pretty mcuh year around, i worry that my small dog will be bitten bye a dangerous spider as well. glue boards, and prevention are failing us here. i wil now attach the photos an dpray that this gets to you. Ido want to add that this am, while i was checking my emaisl i just had another spider walk right up to me iunder my feet, I captured it. i have not identified it yet. it is here next to me i a container. I have sen also the playing dead spiders they are somethig else lol.. and quite netertaining for teh grandkids and my child as well. our garage/ laundrey room is not safe if not done very properly and keeping the laundrey up high as teh spiders go right to teh clothing pile and this is right bey teh hous eentry door, but honestlythat doesnt seem to matter. i wish that i could identify and learn more about hwo to reduce the numbers of box elder bugs as they already are out in full force now i march. i am sure that tree is next door but i do have 5 large oak trees silver oaks i belive is what they are and tehy are damaged or diseased. i do not knwo if they are teh reason for these red bugs. but iw ould like to know if you could help me, also i have one diseae pear tree and an american holly tree out front. i have a lrage hoel out front with black widows in it and live across teh tsreet from a trin rail. could thsi be teh reason for teh hobos? i have a delapted barn out back far away from teh house but have seen many black and brown widows ther as well. so much so i have told teh kids to be very varefull out there and not go in anymore. i am starting ( slightly) to get the creepies. as i have tried all that was suggested that i can physiaclly do to just get them to sklow down here. I do not wish to kill them all but just get them under control and be safe to sleep without the on us at night. i vaccumm pretty much every day. sory so long i am sure if you post this you will have to edit it down. I am a little chatter box. also being in disability is as you may know , there are not enough fund for a proeffesional extermintair. I would like ot get a college proffesor if at all possible to teach some youth here but also hep me to get them under control that way it is a learnig experince and also, a possible help to me. and safety for us while we sleep. I also have some weird things in teh sand that i looke dup the name of them once that are super timy and they are under loose soil when something comes ther way they pull it under the sand or loose dirt that is sand like. maybe they are ther to eat teh spiders? i do not know but they are very small but there are many mnay mnay tiny little holes or mounds pf these thinsg all lined up under my front window sheltered bye teh eaves of the house. ok, I will end here i prmise! thank you so very much for you site it is wonderfull!!! sincerley
dawn h
Not the obnoxious one either! lol…. that was not very nice of her
P.s. i just downloaded some pics but ther are more. ihave lost some of my pics i wil see if this will go through if your intrested in more… that are even more boxelders in one locale letme knwo and i will keep searching. I have some how messed up my picsture files! i sure hope thsi goes trhough now lol i have spent about 45 mins on this. have a great day adn thank you for yoru informative and helpfull site!
dawn

Hi Dawn,
It went through, it all of its rambling glory, though we fear there was some jumbling along the way. It sounds from your description that you have a perfect environment for insects and spiders, and that you are doing an admirable job of cohabitating. We have gotten recommendations on the control of Boxelder Bugs that involves spraying them with soapy water. It is not injurious to the environment. The critters in the holes sound like Antlions or Doodlebugs.

Letter 2 – Boxelder Bugs

Swarm of red/black insects
June 13, 2009
Swarm of red/black insects
Ā• Your letter to the bugman (please provide as much narrative and information as possible)    I have what I would describe as a swarm of red and black insects on the side of my house and my neighbor’s house. There are two distinct looking types. One is larger and more black than red while the other is smaller and is more red than black, and there are tinyred ones I can only assume are babies everywhere.
Nathan Elsener
North Central West Virginia

Boxelder Bug Aggregation
Boxelder Bug Aggregation

Hi Nathan,
Boxelder Bugs like the ones in your photo are one of our most frequently requested identifications.  The Boxelder Bugs frequently form large aggregations of nymphs and adults.  Other than being a nuisance, the Boxelder Bugs are benign.

Letter 3 – Democrat Bugs

Boxelder Bug aggregations are a metaphor for political gatherings during election season!!!

Subject: red black tree bug?
Location: Carthage, MO
September 12, 2012 1:25 pm
found a nest of these the other day when i was mowing. havent seen these before. They havent came into the house yet so i was wondering if they should be messed with or just let them run their course.
Signature: Sam Scott

Boxelder Bugs

Hi Sam,
You encountered an aggregation of Eastern Boxelder Bugs,
Boisea trivittata.  They can become a bit of a nuisance when they get plentiful, but they are basically a benign species that does not harm the tree since they feed on the seeds of boxelder and other trees, and their feeding does not do any damage to the trees themselves.  Eastern Boxelder Bugs hibernate during the winter and they have been known to enter homes, often in large numbers, to escape the cold.  They appear in great numbers in sunny locations, often on the southern exposures of houses, and generally during warm fall days.  Boxelder Bugs are also called Democrat Bugs, Populist Bugs or Politician Bugs according to BugGuide, most likely because their appearance seems to coincide with the political conventions and gatherings just prior to election season.  Our staff has been following election coverage recently and we have been hoping to get a nice photo of an Eastern  Boxelder Bug aggregation so that we could create a new posting, and though your photo doesn’t really accurately depict the massive groupings that have resulted in Boxelder Bugs being compared metaphorically to the crowds of people who gather during political gatherings, it is the first example we have received this political season.

Letter 4 – Mating Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs.
Hi folks!
Two pictures, one of Boxelder Bugs (Boisea trivittata) mating for your Bug love page, and one of a box elder nymph. Sending you the full sized pics so you may crop as needed. They’re also called Garage Bugs, and oddly enough, these bugs were on my garage door!
Cheryl-Anne Miller

Hi Cheryl-Anne,
Thanks for contributing to our Boxelder Bug archive.

Comment: (07/02/2008) THANK YOU..
hahah im so glad you guys answered the boxelder bug question 9078787697867657956 times. i spent all day trying to figure out what they were to see if they were harmful and your site is the only one that helped me.
p.s. im also glad you don’t offer extermination advice. i love bugs. keep up the good work guys.

Letter 5 – Boxelder Bug Nymphs

Red Bug
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
June 26, 2011 7:19 pm
The bugs have been crawling around our front walk along a garden filled with vinca ground cover. Some move very quickly, scampering across the concrete bricks, while others gather in clumps. They have been around for more than a week, and I can see that they have about doubled in size.
The start out as a bright red-orange in leg and body color, gradually developing the darker body and legs It looks as if they are developing wings, and I am guessing that the red bumps on the head are eyes. From head to tail, they measure between 1/4ā€ and 1/2ā€, at least so far.
Iā€™d like to know what they are and whether they are beneficial or harmful to my garden and house.
Signature: lloyd

Boxelder Bug Nymphs

Hi Llyod,
We already responded to three previous requests from today for Boxelder Bug Nymph identifications, and with your letter, we decided we needed to post a letter with photos.  Coincidentally, your photos were also the best.  Boxelder Bugs will not harm your home or garden, though they do feed upon the seeds of boxelder and other maples.  They are more of a nuisance than a problem, especially when they are extremely numerous.  They also seek shelter indoors when the weather begins to cool.

Boxelder Bug Nymphs

Letter 6 – Western Boxelder Bug

Bug Identity
Location: Portland Oregon
February 9, 2012 1:35 am
This but is found in Portland Oregon in my back yard. There are a # of Pine Trees in my yard. There are a ton of them right now and probably will be through summer.
Signature: Todd Davidson

Western Boxelder Bug

Hi Todd,
This is a Western Boxelder Bug, Boisea rubrolineata, a species that is known to congregate in large aggregations and they are known to enter homes to hibernate when weather cools.  We don’t believe they have any interest in your pine trees, but they do feed on the seeds of maple and boxelder.  BugGuide lists the food as:  “hosts: Acer grandifolium (Bigleaf Maple), A. negundo (Boxelder), A. saccharinum (Silver Maple), Koelreuteria paniculata (Goldenrain Tree), and Sapindus saponaria (Western Soapberry)(1)  Flowers and young seeds are preferred, so female trees often support larger populations; may also feed on foliage, on sap seeping from wounds on branches/trunks, and on fallen seeds. They will sometimes feed on trees of the Rose Family (Malus, Pyrus, Prunus, etc.) and cause minor damage to commercial fruit (rarely). They are recorded to feed on plants as diverse as Grass, Alfalfa, and Potatoes. It is even common to see them gathered and sucking fluids from other substances such as discarded human food, smashed insects, etc.”

Letter 7 – Boxelder Bugs on Roses!!!

Huge amount of bugs on rose bush.
May 27, 2010
There are hundreds of these appeared on one of my rose bushes. Can you tell me what it is and what I should do ? Is it harmful to my bush ?
Barbara W
Greenville, Texas 75401

Boxelder Bugs

Dear Barbara,
These are Boxelder Bugs, and other than them being numerous and an annoyance at times, they are harmless to your plants.  We have never heard of them aggregating on rose bushes, since they feed on the seeds of maple trees.  Perhaps they are just being opportunistic.

Authors

  • 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.

17 thoughts on “What Attracts Boxelder Bugs: Top Secrets to Understand Their Behavior”

  1. I have seen these at my Great Grandmas in Salt Lake and always thought they were so cool but never knew what they were.

    I have the same feelings about bugs. I love them and am glad you do not offer extermination advice or even give it. thank you so much.

    Reply
  2. I have a 50′ cypress pine tree that is infested with these bugs under the bark. The bark of the tree is falling off. Do these bugs kill the tree? How do I get rid of them? We live in the Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley area.

    Reply
  3. You wouldn’t think they were cool if they invaded your home. They wake us up at night crawling all over our faces, head, neck and anything else exposed. Woke up yesterday morning with one crawling on my eye.

    Can’t get rid of them because they love box elder and ash trees and we have an abundance of both in our neighborhood.

    Reply
    • I only recall finding them ‘cool’ when they were outside the house. When they were inside, I wanted to get them out. They belong outside, not in the house. Nevertheless, I am still grateful for them.

      Reply
  4. My house is almost covered with boxelder bugs. I live in Florida. What can I do. They seem to be nesting in the eaves where I cannot get to them. They are getting into the house. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply

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