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Unveiling the World of Boxelder Bugs: Behavior Diet and Associations

Introduction to Boxelder Bugs

Are you tired of finding those pesky black-and-red bugs crawling around your home? Well, you’re not alone.

These critters are none other than boxelder bugs, and they have a habit of making themselves at home in our cozy abodes. In this article, we’ll delve into the intriguing world of boxelder bugs, exploring their behavior, their association with the boxelder maple tree, and their dietary preferences.

So, let’s jump right in and uncover the secrets of these fascinating creatures!

Description and Behavior of Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs, also known as black-and-red bugs, are part of the true bug family, scientifically referred to as Boisea trivittata. As their name suggests, they are primarily black with striking red markings on their abdomen and thorax.

Adult boxelder bugs grow to about half an inch in length, and their elongated bodies have a distinctive shield shape.

Now, let’s talk about their behavior.

Boxelder bugs are known to be nuisance pests as they have a habit of seeking shelter in our homes during the cooler months. They are attracted to the warmth and moisture provided by our dwellings, making our cozy spaces their own winter retreat.

While they don’t cause structural damage to buildings, their presence can certainly be a nuisance.

Infestation and Association with Boxelder Maple Tree

So, why do boxelder bugs invade our homes in the first place? The answer lies in their strong association with the boxelder maple tree (Acer negundo).

These bugs feed on the boxelder maple’s seeds, which they find particularly tasty. This relationship between boxelder bugs and boxelder maple trees explains why these critters tend to infest homes that are in close proximity to these trees.

During the spring and summer months, boxelder bugs lay their eggs on the trunks and foliage of the boxelder maple tree. The eggs hatch into nymphs, which are smaller versions of the adults.

These nymphs go through several moltings before reaching adulthood, shedding their exoskeletons along the way. It is during this developmental stage that they are most commonly found infesting boxelder maple trees.

Food Preferences of Boxelder Bugs

Now that we have a good understanding of boxelder bugs and their association with boxelder maple trees, let’s explore their dietary preferences in more detail.

Primary Food Source – Boxelder Maple Seeds

The primary food source for boxelder bugs is the seeds produced by the boxelder maple tree. These small, winged seeds are abundant during the summer months, making them an ideal source of nutrition for these bugs.

Boxelder bugs have specialized mouthparts that allow them to pierce the seeds and extract the juices within. This feeding habit explains their strong association with boxelder maple trees.

Other Food Sources for Boxelder Bugs

While boxelder maple seeds are the preferred food of these bugs, they are not picky eaters. In addition to boxelder maple seeds, boxelder bugs also feed on the leaves of various trees and plant juices.

They have been known to munch on the leaves of ash trees, cherry trees, and even fruit trees like apple and plum trees. However, it’s important to note that boxelder bugs primarily rely on the boxelder maple for their sustenance.


In conclusion, boxelder bugs are fascinating creatures that, although considered nuisance pests, have a unique association with the boxelder maple tree. Understanding their behavior, infestation habits, and dietary preferences can help us find effective ways to manage these bugs and keep them out of our homes.

So, the next time you spot one of these black-and-red critters, remember that they’re just on a quest for a cozy home and a meal that satisfies their taste buds.

Other Plants Targeted by Boxelder Bugs

While boxelder maple trees are the favorite food source for boxelder bugs, these critters are not limited to solely feasting on their seeds. They have been known to target a few other tree species as well.

In this section, we will explore the secondary food sources for boxelder bugs and the limited association they have with other trees.

Ash and Silver Maple Trees as Secondary Food Sources

In addition to boxelder maple trees, boxelder bugs have a particular fondness for the leaves of ash and silver maple trees. These trees offer a tasty alternative to boxelder maple seeds, especially when the seeds are scarce.

Boxelder bugs may gather in large numbers on the leaves of these trees, stripping them of their green foliage as they feed. This can be particularly concerning for homeowners with ash and silver maple trees in their yards, as it can impact the overall health and appearance of these trees.

Limited Association with Other Trees

While boxelder bugs have a wider range of potential food sources, their association with other trees is relatively limited compared to their strong affinity for boxelder maple trees. They may occasionally be found on the leaves of other trees, but this behavior is not as common or significant.

Boxelder bugs may briefly sample the foliage of trees like cherry, apple, and plum trees, but their preference for boxelder maple trees means that they do not rely heavily on these alternative food sources for survival.

Predators and Natural Enemies of Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs, just like any other creature, have their fair share of predators and natural enemies that help keep their population in check. While these natural control mechanisms provide some level of population control for boxelder bugs, they are not always effective enough to prevent infestations from occurring.

Let’s explore some of the predators and natural enemies of boxelder bugs.

Rodents as Potential Predators

Small mammals, such as mice, rats, and chipmunks, are known to prey on boxelder bugs. These rodents have a voracious appetite and are not deterred by the pungent odor that boxelder bugs emit as a defense mechanism.

They will eagerly snack on these bugs, providing some level of population control. However, it is important to note that rodents alone are rarely enough to fully eliminate a boxelder bug infestation.

Insects as Predators

In the insect world, there are a few formidable predators that see boxelder bugs as a tasty treat. Spiders, including species like the bold jumping spider, will gladly snag boxelder bugs in their elaborate webs.

Praying mantis, with their remarkable camouflage and swift reflexes, also count boxelder bugs among their prey. Another insect predator that poses a threat to these bugs is the wheel bug, known for its large size and powerful beak-like mouthpart.

These insect predators play an important role in keeping boxelder bug populations in check by actively hunting and consuming them.

Limited Effectiveness of Predators for Population Control

While predators certainly play a part in controlling the population of boxelder bugs, their impact is limited. Predators alone are often not enough to completely eradicate large infestations of these bugs.

Boxelder bugs have a short reproductive cycle and can lay numerous eggs, ensuring a steady supply of nymphs to replace any individuals that are consumed by their natural enemies. Additionally, predators are not always abundant or efficient enough to keep up with the rapid reproductive rate of boxelder bugs.

Therefore, while predators are helpful, they are not a foolproof solution for population control.


In conclusion, boxelder bugs have the ability to target other plants as secondary food sources, with ash and silver maple trees being among their favorites. However, their association with these alternative trees is not as strong as their affinity for boxelder maple trees.

Additionally, boxelder bugs face predators and natural enemies in the form of rodents, spiders, praying mantis, and wheel bugs. While these predators can help control the population of boxelder bugs to some extent, their effectiveness is limited, and complete eradication of infestations often requires additional measures.

Understanding these aspects of boxelder bugs and their relationship with their environment can assist in managing and preventing infestations in and around our homes.

Identification and Habitat of Boxelder Bugs

To effectively deal with boxelder bugs, it’s important to be able to identify them and understand their habitat and behavior. In this section, we will delve into the physical characteristics of boxelder bugs and explore their preferred habitat and seasonal behavior.

Physical Description of Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs are unique insects with distinctive physical features that make them easily identifiable. These flat insects have an oval-shaped body and measure about half an inch in length.

They have six long legs that protrude from their body, and their wings lay flat against their back when not in flight. The coloring of boxelder bugs is perhaps their most striking feature.

They have a black body with eye-catching red piping along the edges of their wings. Additionally, they have long antennae that extend from their heads, which they use to sense their surroundings.

Habitat and Seasonal Behavior of Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs are commonly found in areas with warm temperatures and thrive during the spring, summer, and fall months. During the spring, as temperatures rise, boxelder bugs emerge from their overwintering sites to bask in the newfound warmth.

They then seek out boxelder maple trees to feed and lay their eggs. As summer ensues, these bugs often make their way into human dwellings seeking shelter from the heat.

They are attracted to the warmth and moisture provided by buildings, making them a common nuisance in homes.

In autumn, boxelder bugs congregate in large numbers, usually on the sunny sides of buildings or in sunny areas near their preferred host trees.

This behavior, known as “congregation,” is their way of preparing for their overwintering period. They gather together to find protected locations where they can hunker down until the temperatures rise once again.

Potential Harm and Nuisance Caused by Boxelder Bugs

While boxelder bugs are generally harmless to humans, their presence can sometimes become a nuisance and cause mild harm. In this section, we will explore the potential bite and irritation they can cause, as well as the negative impact they can have on human dwellings.

We will also compare them to other insect pests to gain a better understanding of their threats.

Bite and Irritation Potential

Boxelder bugs have mouthparts that are not designed to bite humans. While they may occasionally probe the skin with their mouthparts, attempting to feed, they are unable to puncture the skin and inject any harmful substances.

However, their probing can cause some irritation, leading to small red bumps or mild discomfort. It’s important to note that these bites are rare and most people will not experience any adverse effects from encounters with boxelder bugs.

Infestation and Negative Impact on Human Dwellings

One of the primary concerns with boxelder bugs is their tendency to seek shelter in human dwellings, especially during the fall months. As temperatures drop, boxelder bugs instinctively seek warm places to overwinter, and our homes provide the perfect haven.

Once inside, they can quickly multiply, leading to large infestations. The presence of boxelder bugs in large numbers can become a significant nuisance.

When disturbed or crushed, boxelder bugs release a pungent and unpleasant odor as a defensive mechanism, which can quickly permeate the surrounding air. Additionally, crushed bugs can leave reddish-orange stains on walls, curtains, fabric, and carpets.

These stains can be difficult to remove and may require professional cleaning in some cases.

Comparison to Other Insect Pests

When considering the potential harm caused by boxelder bugs, it’s important to note that they are relatively minor compared to other insect pests. Unlike pests such as bed bugs or termites, boxelder bugs do not cause structural damage to buildings.

They do not feed on wood or other materials used in construction. Instead, their impact is primarily limited to being a nuisance and causing minor irritation and staining.

Unlike some voracious pests that can devour vegetation overnight, boxelder bugs primarily feed on the seeds of boxelder maple trees. While this can be a concern for homeowners with boxelder maple trees on their property, the damage caused by boxelder bugs to other vegetation is minimal.

In comparison to other insect pests, boxelder bugs pose less of a threat to property and vegetation.


In conclusion, understanding the identification and habitat of boxelder bugs is crucial in effectively managing their presence and minimizing their nuisance. By recognizing their physical characteristics and knowing where they tend to thrive, homeowners can take appropriate steps to prevent infestations and address any issues that arise.

While boxelder bugs do not pose significant harm or damage, their large congregations and foul odor can become an annoyance. By comparing them to other insect pests, it becomes evident that boxelder bugs are relatively minor in terms of the potential harm they cause.

Overall, staying informed and taking proactive measures can help homeowners coexist with boxelder bugs more comfortably.

Prevention and Control of Boxelder Bug Infestations

Dealing with boxelder bug infestations can be a challenging task, but with the right knowledge and strategies, it is possible to prevent and control their presence. In this section, we will discuss the difficulties in preventing infestations, as well as effective methods for minimizing infestations within homes and implementing external control measures.

Challenges in Preventing Infestations

Preventing boxelder bug infestations can be difficult due to several factors. One of the main challenges is the long-distance travel capability of these bugs.

Boxelder bugs can fly several miles in search of suitable host trees, making it challenging to keep them entirely away from properties. Additionally, their association with boxelder maple trees means that properties located near these trees are more likely to experience infestations.

Even if measures are taken to deter boxelder bugs, they may still find their way onto the property from neighboring areas.

Sealing and Vacuuming to Minimize Infestation within Homes

Minimizing the presence of boxelder bugs within homes is crucial to preventing infestations. One effective method is to seal potential entry points.

Inspect windows, doors, and any cracks or gaps in the exterior of the home, and use caulk or weatherstripping to seal them. This creates a barrier that helps keep boxelder bugs from entering.

Regular vacuuming can also significantly reduce the number of boxelder bugs within the home. Use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to efficiently remove the bugs without allowing their odor to spread.

Focus on areas where boxelder bugs tend to congregate, such as windowsills, corners, and other warm areas. Remember to empty the vacuum bag or canister in an outdoor trash bin to prevent the bugs from crawling back into the house.

Insecticides and Professional Exterminators for External Control

For external control measures, insecticides can be used to treat boxelder bugs and their nymphs in the vicinity of the home. Choose an insecticide labeled for boxelder bug control and follow the instructions carefully.

It’s important to always prioritize the safety of humans, pets, and beneficial insects when using insecticides. When faced with a severe infestation or if control measures prove to be ineffective, seeking assistance from professional exterminators may be necessary.

Professional exterminators have the expertise and access to specialized treatments to effectively address boxelder bug infestations. They can apply insecticides in a safe and targeted manner to ensure maximum control.

It’s worth noting that prevention and control should not be limited to a single tactic. A combination of methods, including sealing, vacuuming, and the use of insecticides, will yield the most effective results in managing boxelder bug infestations.

Regular monitoring and maintenance throughout the year are also essential for long-term prevention.


Preventing and controlling boxelder bug infestations require a proactive approach and a combination of strategies. While it can be challenging to prevent infestations entirely due to the long-distance travel capabilities of these bugs, minimizing their presence within homes is crucial.

Sealing potential entry points and regular vacuuming can significantly reduce infestations within homes. Additionally, the use of insecticides and seeking assistance from professional exterminators can help control boxelder bug populations externally.

By understanding the challenges in preventing infestations and implementing effective control measures, homeowners can better manage boxelder bug populations on their properties. Regular maintenance, monitoring, and a multi-faceted approach to prevention and control will help ensure a comfortable and bug-free living environment.

In conclusion, understanding boxelder bugs, their behavior, and their preferences is crucial for preventing and controlling infestations. By familiarizing ourselves with their physical characteristics and habitat, we can identify and address infestations in a timely manner.

Sealing entry points, regular vacuuming, and the use of insecticides can minimize their presence within homes. Seeking professional assistance may be necessary for severe infestations.

While complete prevention may be challenging, implementing preventive measures and proactive control strategies can significantly reduce the nuisance caused by boxelder bugs. By staying vigilant and taking necessary actions, we can ensure a more comfortable living environment.

Remember, knowledge is key in managing boxelder bug infestations effectively.

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