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Guide to NC Pests

    Boxelder Bugs

    General Information

    adult box elder bugBoxelder bugs are elliptical and about 0.5 inch long. The thorax has 3 red stripes; the leathery parts of the wings are outlined in red; and the eyes are red. The remainder of the insect is dark gray or black. Initially eggs are light yellow, but darken to rusty red. Each has a distinct cap. Nymphs are conspicuously bright red; older nymphs have dark gray wing pads. The head, legs and antennae are gray.


    The boxelder bug is found throughout North Carolina. Besides boxelder tree seeds, this insect has been recorded as feeding on apple, ash, buckeye, cactus, geranium, grape, honeysuckle, lilac, linden, oak, peach, plum, spirea, strawberry, and tulip. Alder, maple and boxelder trees are most often infested but trees are seldom injured. Fruit trees and strawberries have occasionally had fruits damaged. Although boxelder bugs are associated with shade trees, this insect is more commonly a household pest. In fall, boxelder bugs tend to congregate on buildings and enter cracks and crevices to overwinter. They do not bite people or harm goods, but their presence is a nuisance. On warm winter days, the insects become active and move about in and on buildings and cause concern for the homeowner.

    mass of box elder bug nymphs  on tree base Adult boxelder bugs emerge from their overwintering shelters in March and early April and feed for about 2 weeks before mating. These insects prefer sunny areas and, therefore, are found most abundantly on trees in a southern exposure and on sides of buildings facing south. Eggs are deposited in masses of 10 or 11 eggs usually in bark crevices. Each female deposits about 230 eggs. The eggs hatch in about 2 weeks. Development of the six nymphal stages takes 50 to 70 days. The boxelder bug population increases rapidly from middle July to early September. Two generations are produced each year. The insects seek overwintering places in September and October. Only the adults survive the winter.

    Boxelder bugs have unusual feeding preferences. Because these insects feed primarily on boxelder and maple seeds, the insects are found on the ground beneath female trees in the early summer before the seeds start to develop. The bugs move into the trees once seeds begin to form. These insects are cannibalistic, particularly when the victim is molting, and they have been reported to feed on other dead or dying insects.