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Boxelder bugs have earned a reputation for being a pesky nuisance to homeowners across the United States, tending to burrow themselves in and among properties to survive the winter. But local reports across the U.S. indicate that boxelder bugs, which do not pose risks to gardens or plants found around most homes, have appeared in swarms earlier than usual — and could be, in a roundabout way, invading interior spaces earlier than usual.
This spring has seen the rise of boxelder swarms much earlier as temperatures have been historically warm in many regions across the country — which triggers overwintering boxelder bugs to emerge, explains Eric Benson, Ph.D., a Clemson University professor of entomology and Clemson Cooperative Extension entomologist. "If temperatures are warmer [than usual], boxelder bug activity may also be earlier."
Why does it seem like boxelder bugs are seemingly overpowering your porches, gardens, or home exteriors this spring? It all has to do with a widespread drought that affected almost all of the west coast last year — which allowed boxelder bugs to easily find shelter to survive the winter. Now, Benson explains that these bugs, which target seed-bearing boxelder trees and other maple trees, are emerging in clusters to seek out new leaf growth this spring.
Is there a reason why boxelder bugs are arriving earlier this year?
Usually, boxelder bugs are actively seeking out their namesake tree (and other variations in the maple tree family) by May, Benson says. You may notice these pesky insects more so in 2022 due to historically high spring temperatures across nearly every region of the U.S., which enables boxelder bugs to leave shelters they've burrowed in for the winter season.
"Boxelder bug adults are about a half-inch and mostly black with several reddish lines, especially along the edge of their bodies, with immature boxelder bugs being smaller and bright red with only patches of black," he adds. "Boxelder bugs do occasionally bite people, causing some skin irritation, but it is not common. The biggest problem from this insect is the red stain their droppings can cause on carpets and fabrics."
Boxelder bug infestations are common, particularly in the Midwest, as well as regions that are highly concentrated in boxelder trees, maple trees and ash trees, as they feed almost exclusively on seeds found within these tree variations. But last year's drought triggered an influx of boxelder bugs (which are normally swept away in wet weather) that successfully found plenty of shelter in exterior foundation cracks and other hidden, quiet spaces in your home's exterior, says Megan Cavanaugh, a pest control specialist, marketing lead and co-owner of Minnesota-based Done Right Pest Solutions.
"They crawl in cracks and crevices 2-3 millimeters in diameter… and most people don't know these pests have crawled into their exterior wall voids until a warm, sunny day in the early spring comes up, and these bugs start to wake up and come out," Cavanaugh tells Good Housekeeping. "Boxelder bugs begin looking for a way outside once they come out, though sometimes they awake too early — and this is when many pest control companies get calls asking, 'Where did all of these fall pests come from?!'"
Cavanaugh says while she hasn't seen official reports of increased boxelder bug populations from agricultural sources, there's been an influx of calls and reports to her company about boxelder bugs inside homes and businesses this spring.
How do you repel and get rid of boxelder bugs?
If you've discovered a boxelder infestation in an exterior part of your house, it's likely that these bugs are working their way out towards the woody areas in your vicinity. There's a smaller chance that boxelder bugs find their way into your home through gaps in foundations, screen coverings, doors and other openings, as they tend to flock to warm, sunny areas in fluctuating temps that we may experience in the spring season. The easiest way to deal with them actually involves a vacuum, both experts say.
"Unfortunately, it's difficult to repel boxelder bugs away from homes. The best way to prevent boxelder bug invasions inside is to caulk exterior cracks and other openings," Benson advises. "When boxelder bugs are seen clustering outdoors, however, it can be a good time to do a limited, targeted treatment with insecticide."
Pest control servicers, just like Cavanaugh's Minneapolis-Saint Paul operation, can work to prevent boxelder bugs from moving inside your home before summer turns to fall using insecticide and other exterior applications, she says. These products often kill these bugs within 8 to 10 hours, preventing them from burrowing further into any exterior areas of your home, Cavanaugh adds.
But if you're experiencing an out-of-season interior infestation this spring, pest control professionals can help you stop boxelder bugs from free-roaming across your home with what's known as a "crawling insect treatment."
"I would recommend this if you cannot stand [squashing or vacuuming] these invading insects anymore. These bugs are just looking to go back outside and will eventually find their way outside, but it can be quite the nuisance simply waiting for them to do so," she says.
How can I get rid of boxelder bugs naturally?
The easiest way to deal with an infestation of boxelder bugs on your own is to reach for a vacuum, particularly a shop vacuum that can stand up to the task. But because Benson and other insect experts know all too well that boxelder bugs can leave near impossible-to-remove red stains on many different surfaces in your home, it's best to be extremely careful and use a soft brush attachment or an open-suction hose option to neatly collect them. And Benson says it's crucial to dispose of the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag in your outdoor trash, or you'll run the risk that the bugs will escape again.
"Some folks will simply keep vacuuming them up while live, where others choose to have pest control come and treat, and then vacuum up dead bugs," Cavanaugh adds. "Homeowners and tenants will need to clean them up either way, but it's often easier to vacuum up dead bugs than live bugs."
Another option? Try spraying surfaces that are attracting the bugs with a mix of water and one-to-two teaspoons of dishwashing liquid of your choice, as highlighted by the Utah State University video embedded above. If you've noticed that boxelder bugs are continually plaguing your property annually, Benson adds that you may consider targeting any boxelder or maple trees around you, though this should be a last resort for a particularly bad infestation only.
What does a boxelder tree look like?
Identifying a boxelder tree is easy if you know what to look for — as they have unique flowers that many would identify as "propeller" like, according to materials published by the University of Minnesota. They're often found along lakeshores, streams, and in close proximity to river floodplains, experts maintain, but also grow among greenery and forest areas that are home to younger hardwood trees. Boxelders grow in a variety of soils and can spread quickly in unmaintained lands, which makes clearing them out entirely a bit of a challenge.
— ColoNativePlantSoc (@ColoradoNPS) May 19, 2017
When do boxelder bugs go away for the season?
If you're wondering when boxelder bugs will stop swarming your home's exterior, remember that they're overwintering bugs — meaning they're likely to disappear once cooler temperatures return in the fall.
"The life cycle and activity of boxelder bugs is closely tied to seed production and new leaf growth on boxelder and maple trees in the spring… they typically move into structures during fall when temperatures start to drop," Benson explains. "In the fall, they become gregarious and will fly and congregate often on the sunny side of structures, and look for cracks and crevices to get into shelter areas for the winter."
Between now and then, you'll decide if you forcibly remove them from swarming any areas around your home, or if you tap a local pest control specialist to help remove an infestation from the interior of your home. But remember that boxelder bugs are very unlikely to cause any serious harm to yourself or to any of your possessions, including your home's foundation.
"Ultimately, try to relax! Boxelder bugs are harmless, if a nuisance," Cavanaugh adds. "Simply take the measures you can, let a pest control company work, or wait it out; it should only last a season."
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