The boxelder bug is an insect in the rhopalidae family; this bug can also be referred to as the boisea trivittata or the maple bug. Boxelder bugs are commonly found on boxelder trees: their main source of food and shelter. In western Canada this bug is referred to as the maple bug because in that part of Canada their host tree is called the Manitoba Maple. Boxelder bugs primarily eat the sap from the leaves, twigs and seeds of female boxelder trees; they will also be seen on the male tree however not as often. Some other trees that boxelder bugs will eat are maple, ash, apple, pear, cherry, peach, plum and grape. While these bugs do cause some damage it is usually not significantly harmful to the plants, boxelder bugs become a nuisance when they seek shelter in homes during the winter. Throughout spring and fall large groups of boxelder bugs can be seen sunning themselves on the south and western sides of buildings and trees. Boxelder bugs do well in heat; their highest populations are during hot dry summers following warm springs.
Boxelder bugs have a fairly flat body that is approximately 8mm (1/3 in.) wide and 10mm- 14mm (1/2 in.) long featuring two antennae, six legs and a pair of wings. Their bodies are black with three red stripes running lengthwise on the thorax near the back of the head as well as red markings near the wings and eyes. Each of their wings has red markings on them making an ‘X’ shape on their back as their wings lie folded. During the nymph stage of their lives boxelder bugs are all bright red with small black markings where their wings will grow; as they age their colouring will change to have more black in it. A boxelder bug’s physical appearance is similar to other bugs such as the red shouldered bug or the milkweed bug. These other bugs do not have the same pattern of red markings as boxelder bugs do. However we can tell the difference by their behaviors, for example a milkweed bug will be found feeding on and living near milkweed plants and does not congregate during the fall, they are also not usually found indoors.
The major host to boxelder bugs is the female or seed producing boxelder tree. The boxelder tree can be found across Canada and the United States. This tree generally grows fast for a short period of time. On average they will reach a diameter of 30cm-50cm. One feature of the boxelder tree is that it can be either a male or female tree. A tree that produces seeds is considered female and one that does not is a male tree. Over the winter boxelder bugs will travel in groups to sheltered areas for example buildings, foundations or wood piles. Often they will get into cracks and openings in homes where they then become attracted to the heat and find their way into homes. While these bugs can be pests they will not infest or reproduce in your home. They can cause minor damage as their excrements will stain draperies and fabrics; they also create an unpleasant smell when they are crushed.
In the spring when it becomes warm again adult boxelder bugs will migrate back to their host tree. It is then that they will mate and lay their eggs on or near boxelder tree. After approximately two weeks the eggs will hatch and nymphs will emerge and begin to feed on leaves of the tree. During the summer the nymphs will mature and some will mate to have a second generation of boxelder bugs. In August and September when the weather begins to get cold again adults will begin to migrate to find a sheltered place to spend the winter. While there may still be nymphs only adults will survive the winter.
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