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?

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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts

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

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