22 September 2011

Boxelder Bugs

The Boxelder bug (Boisea trivittata)

I started typing this post about all of the autumn-time plants I’ve been seeing around Greenough Park, but I was interrupted when a boxelder bug crawled across the desk and onto the keyboard. 

There has been an influx of them in the office. They are crawling on walls and bookshelves, down the stairs and up the doorways. I have seen half a dozen today alone. I have heard folks talking about them--and not everyone knows much about them. 
Boxelder bugs are named for their love of boxelder trees. The bugs are attracted to the female boxelder trees, which are the seed-bearers that can be identified by their long slender blossoms that hang down and produce seeds similar to maple seedpods—the paired “whirlybirds.” Boxelder bugs will, to a lesser extent, also feed on maple, ash, and sometimes fruit trees. They use their ‘beak’—a proboscis—like a straw to suck juices out of plant material (predominately from seedpods), but they don’t seem to cause any damage to the trees.

 I can see a female boxelder tree out the east window of the office, its seedpods hanging in dry clusters that will endure through the winter. The windowsill is crawling with bright boxelder bugs of all life stages, sunning in the mottled morning light.

Sara C. 2011

The nymphs, or immature bugs, are bright red with round bottoms, which become more elongated and marked with black as they mature. The adults are a half-inch long, flat-topped and predominately grayish brown or black, with parallel red stripes on their thorax, a red abdomen, and red cross-markings on their wings. The bugs have big eyes and long, segmented antennae.

I don’t mind boxelder bugs; they don’t bite, or sting, or stink, or eat houseplants. They find ways into buildings, but don’t damage them. They just crawl around, looking for a nice place to sleep through the winter, and then come spring they go back outside to mate. They are considered pests simply because they are a plentiful, and therefore sort of a nuisance. (The boxelder bug at my desk is actually quite entertaining, and seems to enjoy following every cord from my computer and back.)

The boxelder bugs mark a change in seasons, a reminder that summer will come to an end. Other than that, they are absolutely harmless.

Though remember: don’t squish them, they’ll stain things.

 “Boxelder bugs and Conifer Seed/Leaffooted Bugs.” Montana Integrated Pest Management Center, 1997.  http://ipm.montana.edu/YardGarden/docs/boxelderbugsconiferbugs-insect.htm 

“Boxelder Bugs vs. Lady Bugs.” The Eclectic Scientist! June 23, 2010. http://angelasentomlabnotebook.blogspot.com/2010/06/boxelder-bugs-vs-lady-bugs.html

Swan, Lester and Charles Papp. The Common Insects of North America. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc: New York, 1972. p126.

See also: Spotlight on Boxelder Tree, April 2010