Boxelder bugs are native to the western and southwestern United States. Boxelder bugs were introduced into all other regions of the United States as well as southern Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced , Native ); neotropical (Introduced )
Boxelder bugs are relatively flat and elongate bugs that are 12.7 mm long on average. They are black or brownish-black with red, line-shaped markings on the sides and center of the pronotum, edges of the forewings, and posterior margins of the abdominal segments. The eyes and first segment of the legs are red. Their eggs are red, elongate, and approximately 1.6 mm in length. Nymphs are red when newly hatched and acquire a darker body and dark markings on the head as they develop. They become the characteristic black or brownish-black color when approximately halfway grown. Nymphs in earlier stages of development lack wings. Females have larger abdomens than males, extending beyond the front edge of the forewings, and have a more rounded rear.
Range length: 10 to 14 mm.
Average length: 12.7 mm.
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; female larger
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry
During spring and summer, boxelder bugs reside on boxelder trees, maple trees, and ash trees. Boxelder bugs usually live in deciduous and mixed forests and meadows. In late fall, boxelder bugs seek shelter for hibernation. Shelters often include buildings and windows around ground floors. They are found gathering in areas of sun because they prefer higher temperatures. This leads them to cluster on the south and west sides of buildings, where the surfaces are heated by sunlight. When not overwintering in or around buildings, boxelder bugs seek shelter under the bark of trees.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest
Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural
Boxelder bugs feed on boxelder trees, maple trees, and ash trees. Nymphs feed on the juices found inside the seeds of host plants. Adults eat the leaves, flowers, twigs, and seeds of host plants. Prior to the development of seeds, they eat low vegetation and old seeds found on the ground. Boxelder bugs may eat other boxelder bugs or eggs during molting. Fruits including apples, pears, peaches, plums, and grapes are eaten as well. Boxelder bugs have been reported eating dead insects such as cicadas or ground beetles.
Animal Foods: eggs; insects
Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
Boxelder bugs are primarily folivores. It is thought that the red markings on the back of boxelder bugs warns prey that they are distasteful. However, they are still prey to some grasshoppers, rodents, birds, praying mantises, and spiders. They feed mostly on seeds or trees, but do not cause harm to the trees or environment within which they feed. Trees that host boxelder bugs include bigtooth maples (Acer grandidentatum), boxelder maples (Acer negundo), silver maples (Acer saccharinum), trident maples (Acer buergerianum), and wingleaf soapberries (Sapindus saponaria). Adult boxelder bugs are host to many parasitic flagellates in the intestinal tract. Specifically, Endolimax leptocoridis is an amoeba that was confirmed to reside in the alimentary canal of both adults and nymphs. Entamoeba polypodia are amoebae that were found in the ventriculus, intestine, and anus of some nymphs.
Species Used as Host:
- bigtooth maples (Acer grandidentatum)
- boxelder maples (Acer negundo)
- silver maples (Acer saccharinum)
- trident maples (Acer buergerianum)
- wingleaf soapberries (Sapindus saponaria)
- amoebas (Endolimax leptocoridis)
- amoebas (Entamoeba polypodia)
Boxelder bugs are prey to some grasshoppers, rodents, birds, praying mantises, and spiders. Adults may eat nymphs, usually during molting. Several predator avoidance tactics are employed. The red markings on the body of adult boxelder bugs, as well as the red color of eggs and early nymph stages, are believed to be aposematic. Adults give off a foul odor if disturbed. Boxelders have a pair of abdominal glands through which unappealing odors can be released to ward off predators. When females lay their eggs, they do so in crevices or under leaves and vegetation to protect eggs from predation. Boxelder bugs also aggregate in very large groups, which may intimidate possible predators.
- boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata)
- grasshoppers (Orthoptera)
- rodents (Rodentia)
- birds (Aves)
- praying mantises (Mantodea)
- spiders (Araneae)
Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic
Boxelder Bugs (Boisea trivittata) are usually found near their primary host, Boxelder Maple (Acer negundo), but have been found feeding on other trees as well, including Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), oaks (Quercus spp.), and tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) (Yoder and Robinson 1990 and references therein).
Life History and Behavior
Adults and nymphs have a pair of scent glands located on the dorsal side of the abdomen that secrete monterpene hydrocarbons and may be used for communication. Boxelder bugs also have a pair of ventral abdominal scent glands through which males secrete an exocrine compound during copulation to stimulate or claim the female. It is speculated that males also use this secretion during confrontations with other males. Males are attracted to the odor secreted by females. Boxelder bugs have compound eyes and ocelli, which are believed to aid in perception of the environment along with antennae, the primary sense organs. There are no acoustic or vibrational signals used for communication.
Communication Channels: chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; chemical
Boxelder bugs develop through three life stages: eggs, nymphs, and adults. Eggs hatch after 10 to 14 days. The average length of time spent as a nymph is 50 to 78 days. Nymphs molt 5 times, growing larger with each molt. The stages between molts are called instars. During the first through third instars, nymphs increase in body size. During the fourth instar, wingpads form. During the fifth and sixth instars, the length of wingpads increases. Adults become inactive during the winter and hibernate in protected sites. Sexes are physically determined by genitalia. Females have 14 chromosomes and males have 13.
Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis ; diapause
Boxelder bugs have a short lifespan of approximately one year.
Status: wild: 1 years.
Status: wild: 1 years.
Boxelder bugs breed seasonally. After hibernation, they feed for approximately 2 weeks before looking for a mate. To find a mate, boxelder bugs use their long, segmented antennae, which are their primary sense organs. Males secrete an exocrine compound from abdominal scent glands during copulation which stimulates or claims the female. Males are smaller than females and are often passively carried by females during mating. Mating between males and females occurs with a rear-to-rear body contact. Males and females may have multiple mates. Males of other members of the subfamily to which boxelder bugs belong (Serinethinae) guard females while they lay their eggs.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Boxelder bugs breed seasonally, during the summer and early fall. Depending on their location, they produce 1 to 3 generations each year. Reproduction does not begin until outside temperatures consistently reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit. When this occurs, boxelder bugs become active and leave their overwintering sites to migrate toward host trees. Boxelder bugs reproduce sexually with internal fertilization. Usually at the beginning of May, females lay eggs in the crevices of the bark and leaves of host trees or on the ground in grass or leaf litter. Each female lays 200 to 300 eggs either singly or in clusters of about 10 eggs. The eggs develop for 10 to 19 days, and 13.75 on average. Nymphs have 6 instars, meaning they molt 5 times before becoming an adult. The length of time spent in nymph stage is dependent on food availability and temperature. Where habitat permits, nymphs will grow to adults in the same season that they were born. When this occurs, these first-generation adults mate and produce a new generation of boxelder bugs within the same season. Boxelder bugs reach sexual maturity at 50 to 78 days, and in 59.5 on average. First generation adults climb or fly into host trees to mate and lay eggs for the second generation. A third generation may be produced in the same year. Only adult boxelder bugs are capable of overwintering. Nymphs that have not yet developed into adults by the winter season will likely die.
Breeding interval: Depending on their location, boxelder bugs breed once, twice, or three times yearly.
Breeding season: Boxelder bugs breed during the summer and early fall seasons.
Range eggs per season: 200 to 300.
Range gestation period: 10 to 19 days.
Average gestation period: 13.75 days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 50 to 78 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 59.5 days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 50 to 78 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 59.5 days.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
Females exhibit parental investment by provisioning eggs with yolk material and protecting them while they are in her body. There is no known further parental investment in this species.
Parental Investment: female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Boisea trivittata
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
Boxelder bugs exist in large numbers and are not endangered.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Boxelder bugs are considered by many to be a pest, but they have not been deemed a commercial pest. They invade homes and various shelters in the winter, and do so in large numbers. There have been reports of boxelder bugs biting humans, though this is not common. They are not harmful to property, but have been known to stain walls, curtains, or other indoor surfaces with their excrement. Many different pesticides may be recommended in order to keep these insects out of buildings. The main economic impact of boxelder bugs on humans lies in prevention from entering homes or buildings. It is recommended that humans seal buildings in any areas vulnerable to bug entry. Also, pesticides available to the public that are recommended for boxelder bug prevention include bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, deltamethrin, lambda cyhalothrin, permethrin, and tralomethrin.
Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings); household pest
There are no known positive economic effects of boxelder bugs on humans.
The Boxelder Bug (Boisea trivittata) is often considered a household pest in the United States. Overwintering Boxelder Bugs may seek shelter in warm, protected areas around houses. Large aggregations in spring and fall may result in significant numbers entering houses, where their excrement may stain fabric. (Yoder and Robinson 1990)
The boxelder bug (Boisea trivittata) is a North American species of true bug. It is found primarily on boxelder trees, as well as maple and ash trees. The adults are about 12.5 millimetres (0.49 in) long with a dark brown or black coloration, relieved by red wing veins and markings on the abdomen; nymphs are bright red.
Trivittata is from the Latin tri (three) + vittata (banded).
Biology and taxonomy
These highly specialized insects feed almost exclusively on the seeds of Acer species. The boxelder bug is sometimes confused with Jadera spp., or its western counterpart, Boisea rubrolineata. The name "stink bug," which is more regularly applied to the family Pentatomidae, is sometimes erroneously used to refer to Boisea trivittata. Instead, these insects belong to the family Rhopalidae, the so-called "scentless plant bugs". However, boxelder bugs are redolent and will release a pungent and bad-tasting compound upon being disturbed to discourage predation; this allows them to form conspicuous aggregations without being preyed on.
Although they specialize on Acer seeds, they may pierce plant tissues while feeding. They are not known to cause significant damage and are not considered to be agricultural pests. Removal of boxelder and other Acer species can help in control of bug populations.
They may form large aggregations while sunning themselves in areas near their host plant (e.g. on rocks, shrubs, trees, and man-made structures). However, their congregation habits and excreta can annoy people; thus, they are considered nuisance pests. This is especially a problem during the cooler months, when they sometimes invade houses and other man-made structures seeking warmth or a place to overwinter. They remain inactive inside the walls (and behind siding) while the weather is cool. When the heating systems revive them, some may falsely perceive it to be springtime and enter inhabited parts of the building in search of food, water, and conspecifics. In the spring, the bugs leave their winter hibernation locations to feed and lay eggs on maple or ash trees; aggregations may be seen during this time and well into summer and early fall, depending on the temperature.
- Boxelder Bugs University of Minnesota
- Göllner-Scheiding, U. (1983): General-Katalog der Familie Rhopalidae (Heteroptera). Mitt. Zool. Mus. Berlin 59, 37-189.
- Aldrich, J.R., Carroll, S.P., Oliver, J.E., et al. (1990) Exocrine secretions of scentless plant bugs: Jadera, Boisea and Niesthrea species. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, 18, 369-376.
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