Boxelder Bugs

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Boxelder Bugs (Boisea trivittata) Boxelder Bugs (Boisea trivittata) are named for their primary host, the boxelder tree. Boxelder bugs do infrequent damage to apples, peaches, grapes, strawberries, plums and non-fruiting trees including maple and ash and can be a big nuisance to homeowners. They seek and enter houses in colonies of hundreds, or even thousands as cold weather approaches. They congregate in walls, attics, and warm basements, making themselves at home all through winter, and occasionally emerging into kitchens, living rooms, bed rooms and other human-inhabited spaces. Boxelder bugs, though mostly scentless, give off a pungent odor when disturbed or crushed. Also, their piercing-sucking mouth parts can sometimes puncture skin, causing slight irritation.

Damage. Box elder bugs are sap suckers, penetrating plant tissue with their considerable proboscis and using secretions to make it consumable. They almost exclusively feed on the acer family of maple trees and vines that includes the boxelder and its spinning “helicopter” seed pods, but have also been known to feed on fruit during dry summers. Infestations on box elder trees may cause its leaves to yellow and curl or cause leave spots on stems and new growth. Most trees survive. Damage to grapes, peaches, and other soft fruits is mostly cosmetic, appearing as depressions, sometimes as bruises. While a nuisance, boxelder bugs do relatively little damage to fruit crops, preferring to feed and procreate in its namesake tree.

Indoors, the bugs can be a major problem. While they don’t normally cause structural damage to homes or contaminate food sources (individual bugs will occasionally show up in dried beans and flour if not stored in tightly sealed containers), they can be a source of filth, odor, and displeasure due to their sheer numbers. Warm weather or an increase in home heating may convince individual boxelder bugs that spring has arrived and they will enter a family’s living space in search of a way outside. In late summer and autumn, then they gather in groups much like swarms of bees on the sun-facing, preferably white side of homes and garages where their sheer numbers will discolor the building’s side if allowed to stay.