3 ways to get rid of boxelder bugs (and 4 ways to prevent them)


Imagine sitting in your garden, sipping a cool drink on a sunny day, when suddenly, a shadow flits across your vision. You look up, expecting a bird or a butterfly, but instead, you find a cluster of boxelder bugs descending on your favorite maple tree. With their striking black and red markings, these bugs aren't just a startling sight; they can quickly become a nuisance. Are you wondering how to deal with these uninvited guests?

You're not alone in your concern. At Dr. Killigan's, we understand the frustration and are ready to help you reclaim your peaceful home and garden. In this guide, we'll explore the life and habits of boxelder bugs, address their potential dangers and provide you with safe, effective strategies to eliminate them. Let's dive into understanding these intriguing yet bothersome creatures and discover practical solutions to keep them at bay.

Understanding boxelder bugs


Boxelder bugs, with their distinctive black and red markings, belong to the family of insects known as 'true bugs,' characterized by their piercing and sucking mouthparts. Adults are about half an inch long, with elongated bodies and flat wings. Boxelder bugs undergo a distinct lifecycle that begins in early spring when eggs are laid on the bark of boxelder and other host trees. As these eggs hatch, the emerging nymphs feed and grow throughout the summer, becoming more visible in their striking black and red adult forms by late summer. This is when you might notice them in large numbers. By fall, they begin to congregate around homes seeking warm spaces to overwinter as temperatures begin to drop. Typically, these bugs remain active and visible until the first frosts of late autumn curtail their activity, driving them into hiding places where they will remain dormant until the following spring.

Their feeding habits are key to understanding why they congregate around homes, offering insights on effective management strategies.

What do boxelder bugs eat?

Boxelder bugs, primarily herbivores, have a diet that significantly influences where they are found and how they behave. These insects are not just random visitors; they are usually found in areas abundant with their favorite foods. Let’s dive deeper into the specifics of their diet:

Natural diet


Boxelder bugs predominantly feed on the sap, seeds and leaves of boxelder trees. Their diet isn't limited to boxelder alone; they also thrive on other members of the maple family and ash trees. During the warmer months, they use their specialized mouthparts to pierce plant tissues and suck sap from these trees. Beyond these, boxelder bugs extend their eating habits to include fruits from apple, cherry and plum trees. This varied diet supports their development through different life stages, from nymphs to adults, especially on female boxelder trees (pistillate) where they consume developing seeds.

Expansion to other plants

Although boxelder trees are their primary source of sustenance, boxelder bugs occasionally migrate to other tree species. Fruit trees and bushes also attract these bugs, making them common visitors in gardens with stone fruits like cherry, plum and peach, as well as apple, grape, strawberry and even grass. Their feeding habits target developing sprouts and leaves, which can lead to discoloration or a decreased number of leaves on these plants.

Note: While boxelder bugs' feeding habits can cause slight damage, they are generally not as destructive as other backyard or garden pests. In most cases, unless there's a significant infestation, the feeding activity of boxelder bugs is unlikely to cause serious deterioration to trees or fruits. 

Feeding inside homes: Overwintering, not eating


Interestingly, boxelder bugs do not feed inside homes. They enter buildings during colder months seeking shelter for overwintering, not sustenance. Before entering a state of dormancy, they consume all necessary nutrients outdoors to sustain them through the winter. Thus, if you encounter boxelder bugs indoors during winter, they are merely waiting for spring—they are not actively feeding. 

Interesting fact: This survival strategy allows them to endure the winter without additional food sources, focusing solely on staying warm until the temperatures rise.

While their survival tactics and diet are intriguing, you might still wonder about the potential hazards posed by boxelder bugs. We will now address any concerns regarding their danger to humans and property.

Are boxelder bugs dangerous?

Fortunately, boxelder bugs pose no direct threat to human health. They don't bite or carry diseases, but their droppings can stain light-colored surfaces, and their sheer numbers can be overwhelming. They are more a bother than a danger.

Interesting fact: Boxelder bugs are equipped with a unique defense mechanism. They release chemicals that smell and taste bad to deter predators, a strategy similar to that of monarch butterflies and long-horned milkweed beetles. Their vivid red or orange markings serve as a warning sign, allowing them to gather in plain sight without fear of many natural predators. This visible gathering is often why they're found congregating so boldly and in large numbers.

How to get rid of boxelder bugs

Dealing with boxelder bugs can be bothersome, but don't worry—you can take several effective steps to get rid of them using safe and practical methods. Whether these bugs are congregating around your home or finding their way indoors, here’s how you can tackle them effectively.

  1. Use a soap and water spray. Use a soap and water solution. Mix a tablespoon of dish soap in a spray bottle filled with water. When you find boxelder bugs clustered together, spray them thoroughly. This method kills the bugs by breaking down their exoskeletal protection and helps disperse their gatherings without crushing them—remember, crushing releases a foul odor that can attract more bugs.
  2. Vacuum. Vacuum up boxelder bugs when you spot them. This prevents them from settling in and breeding. Ensure you immediately dispose of the vacuum bag to prevent them from escaping. Follow up vacuuming with a light spritze of Six Feet Under to eliminate any lingering scent or pheromones.
  3. Use Six Feet Under Plant-Powered Insect Spray. This proprietary blend of soybean, cinnamon and clove oils not only kills boxelder bugs on contact but also offers residual effects that last up to 30 days. The formula works by removing the waxy layer from the insects, rapidly dehydrating them, and it's designed to prevent resistance due to its mechanical mode of action. Safe for both your family and pets, Six Feet Under is an ideal choice for maintaining a bug-free environment without resorting to harsh chemicals. It can be used both to get rid of boxelder bugs and as a preventative measure. 

    How to prevent boxelder bugs

      1. Regularly clean heat-reflective surfaces. These surfaces— such as windows, siding, and doors—particularly if made from materials like aluminum or vinyl siding, or if they are dark-colored doors, tend to retain heat and attract boxelder bugs looking to bask in the sun. By lightly spraying these areas with Six Feet Under, you not only repel the bugs but also remove the pheromones they leave behind
      2. Seal all potential entry points. Seal all potential entryways meticulously. Use caulk to close gaps around window frames, door frames, siding and the foundation of your building. Additionally, pay close attention to areas around electrical outlets, switch boxes, heating ducts and return air vents. Boxelder bugs are attracted to the warmth these spots often emit and their flat bodies allow them to squeeze into even the smallest spaces under loose plates or slightly ajar covers. 
      3. Manage vegetation. If you have boxelder trees on your property, they’re attracting boxelder bugs. Make it a routine to trim the trees and diligently mow or rake up the seed pods as they fall. This reduces the habitat and food sources for boxelder bugs, making your yard less inviting to them.
      4. Utilize Dust to Dust Plant-Powered Insect Powder. For those troublesome areas where boxelder bugs congregate or attempt to enter your home, apply Dust to Dust. Sprinkle around the perimeter of your home, focusing on cracks, crevices and potential entry points both indoors and outdoors. (Use the Insect Buster for no-mess distribution). This plant-powered insect powder is formulated with nano-sized particles of essential oils, encapsulated within fine silica, which penetrates the thin, waxy outer layer of boxelder bugs, attacking their nervous systems and resulting in their rapid demise. By creating this barrier, you not only stop boxelder bugs in their tracks but also prevent other household insects from making your home their own.

        Maintaining a boxelder bug-free environment

        As our peaceful afternoon scenario reveals, boxelder bugs can turn a quiet moment into a startling nuisance in no time. But fear not, armed with the right knowledge and tools, you can effectively manage and even prevent these uninvited guests from taking over your garden and home. At Dr. Killigan's, we're dedicated to providing solutions that not only get rid of pests but also ensure they stay gone.

        Now that we've explored how to handle boxelder bugs, it's up to you to implement these strategies. Purchase Dr. Killigan's Six Feet Under today—it's essential to have on hand, not only for dealing with boxelder bugs but also for tackling a plethora of other insects, including ants, roaches, insect larvae, beetles, moths, flies, fleas, and other bugs—fast. For preventative measures, apply Dr. Killigan's Dust to Dust, which provides a strong defense barrier around your home, ensuring that boxelder bugs (and other pests) never enter.

        Regular cleaning, sealing, and careful monitoring of your surroundings are crucial steps. Don't let pests dictate the comfort of your living space. Visit Dr. Killigan's website to learn more about our safe, effective pest control solutions and to explore our full range of products. Together, we can keep your home serene and bug-free.

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