Boxelder bugs, scientifically known as Boisea trivittata and Boisea rubrolineata, are commonly found in North America, especially around boxelder trees.
These insects are easily identifiable by their black color with distinctive reddish markings on their bodies. Both nymphs and adult boxelder bugs have a unique shape with two antennae on their head.
You may have encountered these insects around your home or in the garden, as they are often attracted to boxelder, maple, and ash trees.
Their life cycle includes various stages and can be further understood by researching information about their species. Knowing what eats boxelder bugs can provide insight into how to naturally control their population.
Behavior and Habits
Boxelder bugs undergo a three-stage life cycle consisting of eggs, nymphs, and adults. In the spring, female boxelder bugs lay their eggs on leaves, where they hatch a few days later.
The hatched nymphs are bright red and resemble adults but are smaller in size. Throughout the summer, they grow and molt, finally transforming into adult boxelder bugs by the fall.
Spring: In the springtime, boxelder bugs emerge from their overwintering spots, such as cracks and crevices in your home. They begin to search for seeds and other food sources to consume.
Summer: Throughout the summer, boxelder bugs are mainly focused on reproduction and feeding. They are often seen swarming around the trunks of boxelder trees or plants.
Fall: As the colder months approach, the adult boxelder bugs begin to search for suitable overwintering spots. They will often try to find shelter in cracks and crevices around your home, occasionally becoming a nuisance.
Winter: During the winter, boxelder bugs are relatively inactive, as they “hibernate” in their overwintering sites. They will re-emerge as the weather warms up in the spring.
Boxelder bugs live primarily on and around boxelder trees, feeding on the tree’s seeds and leaves. However, they are capable of surviving on other plants as well, such as maple and ash trees.
Table: Seasonal activities of boxelder bugs
|Spring||Emerge from overwintering sites, feed on seeds, females lay eggs|
|Summer||Reproduce, feed on plant materials|
|Fall||Search for overwintering sites, begin entering homes|
|Winter||Overwinter in sheltered spots, become inactive|
Boxelder bugs are quite distinctive in appearance. They exhibit some unique features that make them easily recognizable. Let’s take a closer look at their physical characteristics:
- Wings: These bugs are winged creatures, which helps them move with ease.
- Legs: With six legs, they have typical insect mobility. Their legs allow them to crawl or land on different surfaces.
- Antennae: They have antennae, which serve as sensory organs and help them navigate their environment.
Boxelder bugs are also known for their eye-catching coloration. Their bodies exhibit a combination of reddish, orange, and black hues, which differentiates them from other insects.
- Color: Reddish-brown is the primary color of their bodies, giving them a distinct appearance.
- Orange markings: In addition to their reddish hue, they have orange markings that stand out against their darker color.
- Red lines and markings: There are red lines and red markings on their wings, making their wings look like they are striped or patterned.
Host Trees and Diet
Role of Boxelder Trees
Boxelder trees play a crucial role in the life of boxelder bugs as their primary host.
These insects feed mainly on seed-bearing (female) boxelder trees, using their piercing-sucking mouthparts to extract sap from the tree’s leaves, tender twigs, and developing seeds1.
By focusing on these trees, boxelder bugs can find an abundant food source where they can thrive.
Role of Maple and Ash Trees
In addition to boxelder trees, these insects can also feed on seeds from other trees, such as maples and ash2.
Although their preference is primarily for female boxelder trees, maple and ash trees offer alternative food sources, allowing them to expand their habitat and range.
This variety in their diet helps boxelder bugs maintain their populations even when boxelder trees are scarce.
Boxelder bugs have a diverse range of food sources within the plant kingdom.
Besides tree seeds, they can feed on various fruits like apples and peaches, as well as leaves from different tree species3. Here are some common food sources for boxelder bugs:
- Seed-bearing boxelder trees
- Maple trees (particularly silver maples)
- Ash trees
- Tree leaves
Boxelder Bugs Inside Home
Why they Enter
Boxelder bugs enter your home in search of a safe and warm environment to survive the winter. They are mostly attracted to light colors, so homes with light-colored walls or eaves are more likely to experience infestations.
These insects invade homes through cracks, screens, doorways, and other unprotected areas.
Areas of Infestation
Once inside the house, boxelder bugs tend to congregate in specific areas, such as:
- Eaves and windows
- Near curtains and other light-colored surfaces
- Around walls, foundations, and doorways
To prevent or control boxelder bug infestations, you can implement the following strategies:
- Inspect and repair screens, gaps in foundations, and doorways to prevent entry
- Use pest control methods such as vacuuming and sweeping to remove bugs from the home
- Apply caulking to seal cracks and openings around windows, walls, and foundations
- Reduce organic debris from around your home’s exterior to discourage bugs from nesting nearby
Dangers and Threats
Bites and Stains
Boxelder bugs are generally not known to bite humans, but there have been rare cases of them attempting to pierce the skin. While the bite may cause slight irritation, it is not considered poisonous or dangerous.
However, boxelder bugs can become a nuisance when they invade homes, as they tend to congregate in large numbers during the warmer months.
When disturbed or crushed, they release an unpleasant odor and can leave red stains on surfaces due to the pigments in their exoskeleton.
Hazard to Plants
Boxelder bugs feed on the seeds and sap of boxelder trees, which can occasionally cause damage to the trees.
However, they are generally not considered a significant threat to the health or well-being of most plants and trees.
Boxelder Bugs and Other Animals
What Eats Boxelder Bugs?
There are several predators that feast on boxelder bugs. Some examples include:
- Ants: These tiny insects are known for attacking and consuming boxelder bugs, both nymphs and adults.
- Birds: Various bird species, such as sparrows and mockingbirds, enjoy snacking on boxelder bugs.
- Spiders: As natural predators, spiders like the jumping spider and the crab spider, prey on boxelder bugs.
- Rodents: Mice and chipmunks sometimes feed on these bugs when other food sources are scarce.
Other animals, like ducks, chickens, and guinea hens, also eat boxelder bugs. In addition, you can find predatory insects like the praying mantis hunting them as well.
Role as a Pest to Animals
While boxelder bugs don’t pose a significant threat to most animals, they can still be considered a nuisance. For example:
- Birds might find them irritating as these bugs tend to gather in large groups, potentially crowding bird nesting spaces.
- Rodents such as rats and mice might have their nesting areas disturbed by the presence of boxelder bugs.
Overall, boxelder bugs aren’t particularly detrimental to other animals, but their large numbers can sometimes cause disturbances in the habitats shared with other creatures.
In conclusion, boxelder bugs, known scientifically as Boisea trivittata and Boisea rubrolineata, play a unique role in the ecosystem.
These insects, easily recognized by their black bodies with reddish markings, are not just a common sight around boxelder, maple, and ash trees, but also a food source for various predators.
Their life cycle, which includes stages as eggs, nymphs, and adults, and their seasonal activities, make them a dynamic part of their habitat.
Predators such as ants, birds, spiders, and rodents find boxelder bugs to be a viable food source. This natural predation helps control boxelder bug populations, highlighting the importance of these insects in the food chain.
While boxelder bugs can be a nuisance when they enter homes in search of warmth, they are generally not harmful to humans or plants.
Their role as a pest is relatively minor, affecting mainly the aesthetics of their environment rather than posing any significant threat.
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 – Western Boxelder Bug
Subject: Please identify
Location: Reno NV
March 31, 2017 3:05 pm
I moved into a new house in Reno, NV. There’s lots of trees and ground cover. This insect is all over my yard, especially in the ground cover. We saw them a lot in August last year too. Right now they are a little annoying, but I want to know if I need to protect my plants, kids, etc. I’m pretty sure they are a beetle, 2 sets of wings, mainly black, some orange/red marks on the back, red body under the wing, and when they breed they connect with their tail ends and walk around.
This is a Western Boxelder Bug, and while they can be a nuisance if they are plentiful, they pose no threat to you, your pets, your home or your plants.
Letter 2 – Aggregation of Eastern Boxelder Bugs
Subject: bug party
Location: grand rapids michigan
June 24, 2014 3:54 pm
Found several piles like this today, sitting right out in the open. Any idea what they are? At the least they make for interesting photos.
This is an aggregation of Eastern Boxelder Bugs, also known as Democrat Bugs. Your image depicts various instars or stages of growth in immature nymphs. Adults and nymphs will congregate together in very large masses. Eastern Boxelder Bugs are considered benign, though they have been know to enter homes to hibernate, making pests of themselves.
Letter 3 – Aggregation of Boxelder Bugs, AKA Democrat Bugs
Subject: Boxelder Bugs
Location: Southwest Indiana
September 16, 2012 5:04 pm
I saw these bugs swarming in town yesterday. They were all over the gates and fence of one house. Looking them up today on your site was no trouble because you had a recent post on your front page!
I thought you’d like another picture of Boxelder Bugs, or Democrat Bugs. It looks to me like there is a variety of ages in this picture.
Love your site – I’ve never had to ask to identify an insect because you have so many posts, and I eventually find what I’m looking for!
We had been searching through our inbox for two weeks, hoping to get a good new photo of a Boxelder Bug aggregation in order to make a Democrat Bug featured posting, but the best photo submitted was out of focus. This is the timely season for their appearance and we also wanted to acknowledge all the election press coverage. Your photo is a fine addition to our site and we are pleased that you were able to self identify your Boxelder Bugs thanks to our website.
Letter 4 – Aggregation of Democrat Bugs
Subject: Rare bug
Location: Illinois ,Springfield
September 23, 2012 11:29 am
I’m seeing these bugs every where in the neighborhood they are red and black tick likened they a threat
Signature: Jason bardwell
We had been waiting for over a week to get a really great image of an Eastern Boxelder Bug aggregation when we made this posting two weeks ago. Your image is a much better documentation of the large aggregations of nymphs and adults that the species form, and we are including your photo in both its original form and a cropped version that reveals the details better. Eastern Boxelder Bugs are also known as Politician Bugs, Populist Bugs or Democrat Bugs, no doubt because their appearance in large numbers coincides with election season, and the gatherings are likened to crowds of people who show up to hear candidates speak. We are replacing the original featured posting with your image and letter, and we are copying our original information that was used in the prior posting.
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 featured posting.
Letter 5 – Another Eastern Boxelder Bug Aggregation
Subject: What kinda bugs are these
September 23, 2012 11:18 am
Yesterday I found a blanket if these bugs on the trunk of the tree in my yard. It was a warm day and it looked as if there was a blanket from the trunk and going up the tree. I did not know about this web site til some one told me so I did not get a picture until today. However it is cooler outside and there is not even an eight of the bug that there were yesterday. Are these bugs harmful to the tree and will the come indoors when cold weather arrives. I am asking because they r all over the one side of my home as well!!
Signature: Patty Janjua
We just completed this posting of an Eastern Boxelder Bug aggregation, and we do not want to duplicate information on these insects commonly called Democrat Bugs. They will not harm your tree since they feed on fluids from the seeds. Boxelder Bugs will enter homes, often in great numbers, as the weather begins to cool. They want a place to hibernate and they will not harm you or your home, but they can be a nuisance. Your sighting in Ohio is interesting in light of all the attention your swing state is getting from the presidential candidates.
What can I do to prevent them from coming into my home and once they get in how do I get rid of them?
Seal the cracks in your foundation and around windows and doors. This will also help with insulation. Remove them using a vacuum cleaner. Though it deals with a different species, the same theory applies, so you can see the Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet on Multicolored Lady Beetles for instructions on using the vacuum cleaner, which includes: “”Bag ’em!!!” Using a Vacuum Cleaner. An effective way to minimize problems with large numbers of multicolored Asian lady beetles is to use a vacuum cleaner or shop-vac to “bag” the beetles. The beetles can be captured inside a knee-high nylon stocking that has been inserted into the extension hose or wand and secured in place with a rubber band (see Figure 2). As soon as the vacuum cleaner is turned off, be sure to remove the stocking so that the captured beetles cannot escape. As you remove it, the rubber band closes around the stocking, effectively “bagging” the lady beetles. You then can discard the contents of the stocking.”
Letter 6 – Another Eastern Boxelder Bug Aggregation Report
Subject: Eastern Box Elder
Location: Greenfield, MO
September 23, 2012 1:26 pm
Here are a few more pictures for your files. Since looking at your site, I have the answers I was looking for! Thanks for being here!
Signature: Kathy B
Thank you so much for sending your photos on a maple tree, a compost pile and on flower pots so that our viewers will have some idea how Boxelder Bugs look when they create a large aggregation. These aggregations generally appear on warm, sunny autumn days in sunny, south-facing locations. They tend to prefer light colored locations, probably because of the light reflection. Because of these aggregations, Eastern Boxelder Bugs are also known as Politician Bugs, Populist Bugs or Democrat Bugs.