Boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata) have troubled many homeowners since as early as 1935. Although they are not classified as a serious problem, they are a nuisance and can also let off a rather nasty smell when disturbed. While they share similar defensive strategies with stink bugs and look pretty similar to kissing bugs, they are not the same insects and getting rid of them requires a different approach. If you are having a problem with these pests at the moment (or have in the past), this guide will show you how to kill them and prevent them from becoming a major issue in the future. We will discuss a few easy to follow, DIY methods that you can use immediately as well as a couple of long-term suggestions. Let’s get started!
Boxelder Bugs – Are They Dangerous?
Boxelder bugs are not dangerous and despite a few isolated and unconfirmed reports on the internet, they do not bite humans. It’s very likely that those that have been “bitten” have been dealing with a different pest. However, please be assured that I am not suggesting a “bite test” to decide whether you are dealing with Boxelder bugs Fortunately, these bugs are fairly easy to find if you know what you are looking for.
For simple identification, keep in mind that an adult box elder bug is usually about half an inch long and while being mostly black, it has dark orange (sometimes red) lines along its thorax and wings. Their young however (usually called Nymphs), are much smaller and are easily visible due to their bright red outer coloring. As these young ones grow older, they develop the darker shades and within a short period, are ready to reproduce if the conditions are right.
Living Conditions, Diet and Life Cycle of Elder Bugs
Ideal Living Conditions: Boxelder bugs love the warmth and thus can often be found sunning themselves on building walls and other places that experience direct sunlight. If it’s cold outside, they are also known to venture indoors to disturb your peace and quiet.
They also congregate in areas that are a rich source of food and since they always need to have a source of food (otherwise they will die), they won’t stay inside for long. Even though they won’t stick around, it’s in your best interest to prevent them coming into your home and I will outline the steps to do this shortly.
Diet: These bugs are fluid feeders (they pierce plants and consume the juice for nutrients). Their favorite source of food is the seed pods that are found on the female boxelder tree. However, they are also often found on maple/ash trees (they eat the seeds) and even though it’s not their personal preference, they sometimes congregate around apple and peach trees. If you have your own fruit trees in your yard, keep an eye out for them as they can sometimes damage their produce.
Something to keep in mind is that these insects often swarm around the neighborhood, looking for food sources such as these. In other words, if you see them hanging around your garden even though you don’t have any of these food sources in your yard, they might have come from another yard in your area.
Life Cycle: Adult Boxelder bugs generally hibernate during winter. They tend to find shelter in tree trunks, in the walls or roofs of structurally damaged homes or even inside of family homes, especially in quiet areas such as the basement or attic. As the warmer months start to arrive, they begin to venture back into the world and start the search for food. After they receive sufficient nourishment, the female Boxelder bugs usually start reproducing after about 20 days and will lay her eggs in a place that has a readily available food source for when they hatch. Since she also wants to protect her young from the elements, these eggs usually land up under the bark of the tree and under leaves.
After a couple of days, the young nymphs will hatch and begin feeding on their surroundings. After only about 5-6 weeks, they will be fully formed elder bugs, ready to repeat the process once the conditions are right. For those that live in the US, the first part of the cycle usually starts in July and will end around September. Learning about this life cycle is important as it helps reinforce how important it is to deal with the infestation as quickly as possible otherwise you might face an even larger problem at a later stage.
Can These Bugs Cause Major Damage?
While they can leave unsightly excrement stains on walls (where they congregate to warm themselves up when the temperature drops), the only real damage they can do is to your fruit trees, if they decide it would be a suitable place to feed. However, remember that although they are known to eat fruit, their preference is towards maple and boxelder trees (the female, since it has the pods) and if there is one of those in your garden that will be their first stop. In saying that, the level of the damage (even to fruit, unless there is a massive number of them) is minimal and for most, they are just an irritation for home owners. As a result, many refer to them as nuisance pests. Based on some feedback from my readers, many have encouraged me to add that since these pests often travel in massive swarms, having a couple hundred sitting on your house wall is a bit gross. Although I haven’t had such a massive infestation before, I can imagine that it could cause damage to your personal pride
How to Get Rid of Box Elder Bugs – 5 Easy Options to Kill Them Fast!
While there must be hundreds of different treatment methods out there, for those of you that have read this blog for the last year or two will know that The Bug Squad only focuses on things that work while keeping things as affordable and that is exactly what we are going to do now. I urge you to choose the method that you can start to use immediately (I recommend trying the natural methods first) so that you can reaping the rewards for your effects as soon as possible. If you have any questions or are confused about a certain step, drop me a comment and I will always get back to you within about 24 hours!
Option 1: Laundry detergent (or dish soap) that is mixed with warm water, placed in a pressure sprayer (available at most garden stores) and used to physically target any visible bugs that you can find is very effective. Upon contact, this will start to break down their cell membranes and they will eventually die. Not very pretty but then again, neither is coating them with a layer of poison. The only problem with this method is that it won’t keep them away so you may need to do a couple repeat treatments to get rid of all of them. The recommended ratio for those interested is about a cup of soap per 4 liters of water, you can adjust the measure as per your needs.
Option 2:Diatomaceous earth (which is also great for killing fleas) can be used to combat Boxelder bugs. This powder is safe for humans (and even pets) as long as the food grade variety is purchased. Despite what you may have read online, DE is not really for outdoor use but rather use useful for killing these insects when they come into your home through various entrances (such as your window sill, cracks in the wall or floor, openings in the roof, etc.). As soon as they come into contact with it, they will die a couple of hours later due to hundreds of microscopic cuts. Again, not too great to think about but it gets the job done.
Option 3: Borax can be found in the cleaning aisle in most supermarkets and can be used the same way as the DE above. I prefer to use DE but that is my personal preference (and because it’s readily available in my corner of the world). If you cannot get Diatomaceous Earth in your area, I highly recommend giving borax a try as there are thousands that are using it for a variety of pests and based on my reader feedback, they are getting good results.
Option 4: A plain old vacuum cleaner can be used to get rid of Boxelder bugs inside the house. Yep that’s right! While you can use things like DE and borax if there are lots of them, usually it’s enough to just find the few that made it into your home and suck them up! Of course, your better option would have been to keep them out in the first place but we will discuss how to do that in a couple of moments. This option is usually used together with one of the other ones to make sure that these pests are killed both inside your house and out.
Option 5: Using insecticide for outdoor elderbug swarms is definitely an option. However, as you have just seen, it’s not the only option and while I have nothing against formal pesticides (they are often necessary), I highly recommend that you give a couple of the natural treatment methods a try first as they are affordable and are completely safe. Of course, the decision is yours and to aid those that want to use poisons to kill elder bugs, here are some tips:
- Try and get a product with a low toxicity level to reduce the environmental impact
- The best time to use this insecticide is late summer so plan your schedule to maximize results.
- Keep the outdoor spray away from your plants and grass. Since pyrethroids based insecticide can potentially damage these fairly badly, it’s in your best interest to make sure none of it lands on your shrubs, flowers, grass, etc.
- Keep your pets away from any residual poison as if they consume any, it can be potentially deadly!
- Pyrethroid based insecticide sprays are very common for box elder bug control. Keep in mind that there is usually a certain type for outdoor perimeter treatment (usually a liquid spray) and another type for indoor treatment (usually an aerosol based deployment mechanism such as a fogger). Do not use outdoor sprays inside your home as they can be a potential health risk to you and your family. There are other active ingredients such as Deltamethrin, Tralomethrin, etc. that also work but I have found that Permethrin based ones work the best in my experience. If would like help with this, remember you can always contact your local exterminator.
Preventative Measures for Proactive Boxelder Bug Control
It’s always better to proactively prevent a problem then to continuously react to them when it actually happens and when it comes to keeping these pests out your house, this rule also applies. Here are a few easy tips that you can check and use to protect your home from a box elder bug invasion.
- Repair any cracks or openings in your walls, roof and other areas of your home.
- If you have an elderbox tree, take time each summer to rack up the fallen pods and to bag them so that they do not attract box elder beetles to your yard.
- Keep your garden neat and tidy. This includes clearing broken branches, sweeping up leaves, etc. Not only will this reduce the available shelter for elder bugs, it will also prevent other potential pest problems.
- If there are spaces that cannot be repaired, consider using a caulking or weather-stripping product to seal these areas. Pay special attention to cable holes (e.g. for antennas, etc.) as these are a common entry point for insects and are often overlooked. Basically any area that has an opening that’s larger then about half an inch may need your attention.
I have had a number of people asking whether they should get rid of their box elder trees from their garden to keep these pests away. While this may solve the problem, the benefit of having the tree there usually outweighs the need to do so. This leaves you with a personal decision about what you want to do. I recommend trying the methods in this article to keep them under control and if you absolutely are failing to do so and have been for some time, removing the tree is definitely an option.
A Few Interesting ElderBug Facts to Share With Your Friends
- Boxelder bugs leave a nasty stain on carpets when squashed so keep that in mind before you step on one!
- Adult Boxelder bugs can fly over a mile to find suitable feeding and nesting areas!
- Elder bugs can also release a nasty smell to ward off predators, much like a stink bug!
- Spiders typically avoid these pests due to their natural defense mechanisms!
In conclusion, Boxelder bugs are not to be feared. At worst, they are just a nuisance and degrade the appearance of your home due to them gathering in large numbers to warm themselves up. Remember, despite what you may have read or heard, they do not bite and hopefully after reading this article, you have a good idea about how to get rid of them. If you have any questions or would like to share your experience, please leave a comment below and don’t forget to share your support for The Bug Squad by sharing this guide with your friends.