Introduction to Boxelder Bug Infestations

If you have an infestation of boxelder bugs, you are undoubtedly asking the question: how do you get rid of boxelder bugs? Furthermore, how do you get rid of boxelder bugs permanently? In this article, the following items are outlined:

  • An overview of boxelder bugs
  • An explanation as to why boxelder bugs are harmful
  • Several methods of getting rid of boxelder bugs permanently; and
  • How to get rid of boxelder bugs from inside your home.

While boxelder bugs are invasive, stubborn and unpleasant pests, importantly, as a homeowner, you have several effective methods of getting rid of them for good. The method you choose is your personal preference and should be largely determined by the extent of the infestation and whether or not it is a recurring problem.

Meet the Boxelder Bug

Importantly, before you can address an infestation, you need to identify the pest causing the problem. Boxelder bugs can easily be confused with other large flying insects such as cicadas and katydids. Boxelder bugs are part of an order of insects known as true bugs, also known as Hemiptera.

Typically, Hemiptera is flying insects that live off of plants and sap as they are herbivores. However, some insects that belong to the Hemiptera order feed off of smaller insects and are considered predators. Others are parasites, passively living off of other life forms. Because the majority of boxelder bugs live off of plants (they feed off of fruit, sap, seeds, and leaves), they can be quite destructive to crops, vegetables, gardens, and trees. While the boxelder bug is not known to be a dire threat to plant life, large swarms of the insect can be a nuisance and quite detrimental to your garden, your yard, and your home.

Boxelder bugs do have some natural predators, such as frogs, birds, and spiders. That being said, most frogs and birds avoid the boxelder bugs due to their pungent odor and unpalatable taste, the boxelder’s natural defenses, leaving spiders to do the lion’s share of the work. Other than spiders, the boxelder is largely unaffected by other parasites or diseases, meaning that it has very few naturally-occurring enemies or threats other than spiders.

However, you probably do not want to start importing large quantities of predatory spiders in order to fight off a boxelder infestation, especially if it’s inside your home.

Additionally, during cooler months, the boxelder bug is known to seek shelter and warmth from the harsh climate, making your home an appealing target. Where specifically should you look for the boxelder bug? Check areas that get a lot of sun exposure; the bugs are drawn to sunlight and warmth.

Like termites, boxelder bugs can cause a good deal of damage to the structure of a home by burrowing inside, and the excreta of the boxelder bug also causes damage by staining the areas it touches. If the boxelder bug is crushed, it leaves behind a stain that is difficult to remove; yet another reason why the insect is problematic. Most unpleasant, perhaps, is the pungent odor that boxelder bugs release when crushed, similar to the stink bug. The boxelder bug is, therefore, an unwelcome sight, whether it’s in your garden or inside your home.

Identifying the Boxelder Bug

Because of its affinity for the box elder tree, the boxelder bug was so named. Boxelder trees are a type of maple found in North America. However, boxelder bugs are certainly not limited to areas with box elder trees and can be found in a variety of environments and habitats; they’re adaptive and resilient.

If you have box elder trees on your property, you have undoubtedly spotted the boxelder bug at one point or another. Make sure to prune your box elder trees regularly. Sweet up the seed pods that the trees drop promptly. The seed pods, full of sweet sap, are primarily responsible for attracting the bug.

The boxelder bug often travels in swarms, sometimes overwhelming the specific area in which they’ve set up camp. Commonly, boxelder bugs are large and black with orange streaks or veins around the perimeter of the exoskeleton. Some boxelder bugs have black legs and wings and bright orange or red bodies. Some varieties of the boxelder bugs have red, grey or brown bodies. Nymphs, or young boxelder bugs, are wingless. Nymphs are usually bright red.

What Boxelder bug look like
How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs Permanently

The bodies, which vary in length, are less than half of an inch thick. Boxelder bugs have six legs, which are long, black and spindly. They have two antennae, which is boxelder’s primary method of navigation. The bugs send chemical messages to each other through the release of pheromones. They are found in virtually all regions of North America, including Canada.

Boxelder bugs release a strong, pungent odor, which is one of the reasons why they are considered to be so unpleasant. Like the stink bug, if the boxelder bug is crushed or stomped on, a large amount of the foul odor is released (a deterrent to predators). The exoskeleton and excreta of the boxelder leaves behind a stubborn stain, which can wreak havoc on the interior of a home.

They resemble long, flat beetles and are usually found in swarms or clusters. The flatness of the boxelder bug allows it to fit through incredibly small spaces, making it a very difficult pest to get rid of. All the boxelder needs are a few centimeters in order to make your home it’s a winter vacation destination.

While the boxelder bug is, in fact, winged, it is limited to flying short distances at a time. Boxelder bugs are drawn to plants that release sap or produce fruit, which is why the boxelder bug is primarily known as a garden dweller.

To reiterate, the boxelder bug may warp fruit, making it unpalatable, but will not completely destroy it. For example, it’s not nearly as destructive as the potato bug, but it’s detrimental nonetheless. The bug is basically harmless to humans; it does not sting and bites are very rare. Boxelder bug bites, which are exceedingly rare,  are mildly irritating and do not require medical attention.

How to Get Rid of the Boxelder Bug

If you determine that you do have an outdoor infestation of boxelder bugs, the next step is to decide how to go about getting rid of the infestation. One easy way is to spray the pests with a solution of dish soap and water. If you take an empty spray bottle, add a tablespoon of dish soap and dilute it with water, you have a relatively safe and effective method of combating the winged invader.

Spray the soapy water on a cluster of boxelder bugs to control it. A few bugs may die in the process if you completely saturate them, but the majority of the swarm will simply be repulsed and repelled by the solution. Through the release of pheromones, the boxelders will warn each other that they have worn out their welcome on your property and that it’s time to move on. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few applications of the soapy water solution before the boxelders get the message.

Also, simply spraying clusters of the boxelder bug with a garden hose can help to combat an infestation. While spraying the bugs with water probably won’t kill them (unless you really saturate and drown a few of them), it will cause the cluster or swarm to disperse. This will prevent the bugs from releasing the pheromone that sends the chemical message to other boxelder bugs that they should come and join the party.

Other Ways You Can Get Rid of a Boxelder Bug Infestation

Another way to get rid of boxelder bugs is to remove whatever it is that is attracting them. This may mean pruning, trimming, or altogether removing trees, plants or fruit from your yard. While this is an effective deterrent, it is not usually the most appealing for avid gardeners and landscapers.

Boxelder maple trees are arguably quite beautiful, and removing a tree or a patch of fruit from your garden is certainly an unpleasant, drastic measure that most people with green thumbs would hate to resort to. However, on a basic level, by removing the boxelder bug’s source of food and shelter, you are removing the “welcome” sign from your lawn.

Infestations Inside the House

From the fall to the spring, boxelder bugs seek out shelter and warmth. Female boxelder bugs, in particular, are driven by instinct to find a suitable, safe place for their larvae to thrive. This is what drives them to burrow inside your home, where they are certainly not wanted. How do you get rid of boxelder bugs inside the home?

One method is to check your home for any cracks or openings in the walls or doors through which the insects may be gaining entry. If you do identify any cracks, seal them off promptly. Another way that boxelder bugs may be entering your home is through cracked, damaged or improperly attached electrical plates.

Remember, boxelder bugs are very flat, and they need very little space to squeeze through in order to get inside your home. Plates that are improperly installed by mere centimeters can provide the entryway that provides a path for a rather frightening swarm to invite itself into your home. Repair, reinstall or replace any electrical plates that you suspect the box elder bugs may be targeting.

If you do see boxelder bugs inside your home, after you recover from the initial shock of seeing an unwelcome swarm of large black bugs parading through an electrical plate, for example, climb down from the ceiling fan and take some proactive measures.

The soap water approach discussed earlier is as effective inside the home as it is outside in the garden. Additionally, wipe down any surfaces where you have spotted the winged invaders with the diluted solution. To reiterate, boxelder bugs find soapy water repulsive and will flee from it.

If you see a cluster of boxelders scurrying across the floor, just like the tiny bugs in bathroom, resist the urge to stomp on them. Doing so will stain your floor, leaving you with a difficult mess to clean up and doing nothing to mitigate the actual infestation. Instead of crushing the bugs, try vacuuming them up. Vacuuming up boxelder bugs is an effective, clean way of trapping the insect without leaving a pesky stain behind. You may want to opt for a shop vac due to the volume of bugs you may encounter.

Once vacuuming is complete, be sure to dispose of the bugs in a secure manner, such as emptying the shop vac into a double-sealed, industrial-strength contractor’s bag. Another option is to apply an insecticide to the body of the shop vac so that the bugs die immediately upon contact. Of course, there are certain risks when using a chemical insecticide, so make sure you exercise caution and read all of the directions carefully before proceeding.

Chemical Options

If vacuuming, sealing off your property and spraying the bugs with the diluted solution of soap and water is not doing the trick, you may opt to try a different approach to getting rid of a boxelder bug infestation. At any hardware store, you can purchase a chemical insecticide, fogger or powder that will kill the bugs upon contact. However, there are certain risks associated with using a chemical insecticide.

Insecticides can hurt people and animals if accidentally aspirated or ingested. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you thoroughly read the instructions and follow the directions provided by the manufacturer. You may elect to use Borax or diatomaceous earth, which are safer methods of killing the bugs. Diatomaceous earth is toxic to insects but is relatively safe to use around people and pets. You can also get rid of a boxelder bug infestation by using a residual insecticide, which is primarily applied with the intent of preventing future infestations.

In the event, you do decide to use a chemical insecticide, make sure to wear eye protection, a mask, and the appropriate clothing when applying the insecticide. If you are uncomfortable applying poisonous chemicals in your yard or inside your home, do not hesitate to call a pest control professional. Insecticides can be quite dangerous if used improperly, and the last thing you want to do is take any unnecessary risks when addressing an insect infestation. Rather than jeopardizing anyone’s safety, consult with a professional.

Recurring Boxelder Infestations

If you are seeing recurring infestations and the methods of fighting the infestations outlined above have failed to keep the bugs from coming back, more drastic measures need to be taken. So, how do you get rid of boxelder bugs permanently?

Your safest bet is to call a professional pest control service. A pest control expert will visit your home and conduct a thorough inspection and evaluation to get a better understanding of how the boxelders are gaining entry to your home, how serious the infestation is, and how to mitigate the situation.

Pest control experts will then provide recommendations to you, review your options, and discuss a plan with you to get rid of the boxelder bugs once and for all. Determining how to get rid of boxelder bugs permanently is challenging and can take a good amount of knowledge and expertise.

The pest control expert may suggest a multi-faceted approach to removing the boxelder bug infestation once and for all. This may involve doing a deep sweep of the inside and outside of your home to identify any vulnerabilities or points of entry. This may also involve determining what exactly is attracting the boxelders, whether it’s something in your garden, a collection of trees, or weaknesses in the structure of your home which the bugs are exploiting.

You may need to get rid of any female box elder trees (the ones that drop the seed pods) because they are such a powerful attractant. Please note that boxelder bugs are not strictly drawn to box elder trees; they like any trees that produce sweet sap or fruit. Pine and ash trees, for example, are also favored by boxelder bugs.

Next, the exterminator will gather the necessary data that he or she needs to determine the size and breadth of the infestation. This may involve the use of bait to identify where exactly the boxelder bugs are coming from, and where they are hiding. Commonly, during the winter, boxelder bugs will search for a warm place where they can hide.

This often means that they will build a nest somewhere that is difficult to reach, such as behind your siding. While it would be nearly impossible to reach an infestation of boxelders located behind your siding without literally removing the siding in pieces, pest control experts have special tools for locating, identifying and mitigating such infestations.

Once that information is garnered, the pest control expert will use some sort of insecticide to kill off the boxelders that have invaded your home. During this process, you, your family and pets will most likely need to vacate the premises to avoid any harmful exposure to said insecticides.

After the application of the insecticide, your house will undergo a deep cleaning to remove any stains caused by the boxelder bugs, and to rid the premises of any dead insects. The deep cleaning will also help to prevent any subsequent reinfestations. As discussed, any cracks, holes or damaged plates will be identified to be addressed immediately to keep boxelder bugs and similar insects from gaining entry to your home.

Finally, poisonous traps can be strategically placed as a preventative measure to keep your home free of boxelder bugs for good. Your pest control expert will know how to safely apply said traps so that there is no danger to you, your pets or your children.

Conclusion: Boxelders Gone for Good

How do you get rid of a boxelder bug infestation? There are several approaches you can take, from spraying the bugs with a garden hose to calling a professional pest control expert. The approach you take is best determined by several variables. Is the infestation inside or outside? Is the infestation pervasive? Are you seeing visible damage to your trees and garden? Have the bugs infiltrated your home, and if so, are you seeing the bugs in large numbers?

Arguably, the most effective way to permanently get rid of boxelder bugs once and for all is to call a pest control professional. That way, the source of the infestation can be properly identified, along with any weaknesses in your home that the bugs are exploiting to gain entry.

The bugs can be killed and contained without wreaking havoc on your home with their unpleasant odor and inevitable staining. A pest control specialist can safely apply insecticides without putting you, your family or your pets at risk of accidental exposure to harmful chemicals.

Boxelder bugs aren’t quite as devastating to plants, fruit, and property as other insects, but they are a nuisance nevertheless. They are also extremely unpleasant, due to their swarming habits, large, startling appearance, pungent odor, and staining capabilities.

The bottom line is that the boxelder bug is not something you want in your yard or your house, and they’re extremely adaptive creatures.

Infestations are stubborn to take on yourself, requiring cleaning, vacuuming, pruning, sealing and spraying, and they still may come back. It may appear that you’ve gotten an infestation under control during the winter because the bugs go dormant and often find a location out of sight to hide, such as behind your home’s siding.

As the weather warms up, the boxelder bugs will come back in full force, leaving you to fight the infestation yet again. Break the cycle by determining how to get rid of boxelder bugs permanently. Boxelder bugs are incredibly adaptive creatures with very few naturally occurring predators or plagues, making them resilient and stubborn pests that are difficult to get rid of.

Instead of struggling to keep up with a boxelder bug infestation, call a pest control specialist with the knowledge, expertise, tools, and experience needed to completely rid your home and garden of boxelder bugs...permanently. You will save yourself a lot of time and frustration and will have the peace of mind of knowing that the pesky boxelders are gone for good.

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