What Eats Boxelder Bugs: Natural Predators Revealed

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

Life Cycle

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.

Seasonal Activities

  • 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

SeasonActivity
SpringEmerge from overwintering sites, feed on seeds, females lay eggs
SummerReproduce, feed on plant materials
FallSearch for overwintering sites, begin entering homes
WinterOverwinter in sheltered spots, become inactive

Physical Characteristics

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.

What Eats Boxelder Bugs
  • 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.

Western Bexelder Bug

Food Sources

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
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • 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

Control Measures

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
Western Boxelder Bug

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.

Eastern Boxelder Bugs

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.

Conclusion

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.

Footnotes

  1. Boxelder Bugs and Leaf-footed Bugs – Ohio State University

  2. Boxelder Bug fact sheet – Cornell Cooperative Extension

  3. More than monarchs – What are those bugs on my milkweed?

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 – Western Boxelder Bug

Subject: Please identify
Location: Reno NV
March 31, 2017 3:05 pm
Hi,
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.
Signature: Stephanie

Western Boxelder Bug

Dear Stephanie,
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.
Signature: dave

Aggregation of Eastern Boxelder Bugs
Aggregation of Eastern Boxelder Bugs

Hi Dave,
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
hi!
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!
Signature: Heather

Boxelder Bugs

Hi Heather,
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

Democrat Bug Aggregation

Hi Jason,
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.

Eastern Boxelder Bug Aggregation

Letter 5 – Another Eastern Boxelder Bug Aggregation

Subject: What kinda bugs are these
Location: Ohio
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

Democrat Bug Aggregation

Hi Patty,
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.

Boxelder Bug Aggregation

What can I do to prevent them from coming into my home and once they get in how do I get rid of them?
Patty Janjua

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

Eastern Boxelder Bug Aggregation

Hi Kathy,
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.

Eastern Boxelder Bug Aggregation

Readers who want an example of what an individual Boxelder Bug looks like can see this image of a winged adult from our archive or this image of an immature nymph from our archive.

Eastern Boxelder Bug Aggregation

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.

9 thoughts on “What Eats Boxelder Bugs: Natural Predators Revealed”

  1. Hi i am having the same problem its been 2yrs. we cant even sit out side we put bug killer but they still come bk. if we take down all of our tree will that help? is there an end to this? HELP

    Reply
  2. Democrat bug has been a problem for me the past two years. First around.On/In wooden utl bldg short distance from my home. Now inside house, out side and suspect in crawl space. HOW can I rid my property of these pest? Thanks, Jim

    Reply
  3. hello me and my family are having the same problem. our apt is very very old, and they cover all our windows. so bad they over lap each other. we didnt see any all summer long, now that the weather is cooling down, they are coming back again. what can i do to keep them away. they are so bad i have three boys and they actually scare my kids due to how many their are, we cant even step outside…. Please Help

    Reply
    • Boxelder Bugs are perfectly harmless, so you should educate your boys that they do not need to be afraid. We understand that they are a nuisance, but we do not provide extermination advice.

      Reply
  4. Seems that we have a problem with the Eastern Boxelder Bug here in California. These seem to congregate on the young melba plants out in the pasture or on the pipe fence. Are they harmful to animals and people? My chickens won’t eat them as I figure it must be because of their red color. We have been in a sever drought here which makes me think that is what has brought them on. We have had a variety of different bugs the last few years which seems to go in cycles for the amount of dry we have. Can you give anymore of an insight as to how to treat the areas to discourage them around the house. If they are in the pasture which is a ways away from the house it doesn’t bother me unless they will harm the horses.

    Reply

Leave a Comment