For Release February 26, 2002
The Boxelder Bug Blues
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
I really enjoy weeks like last week. The phone was ringing off the hook and everyone had the same question. That means I can make a prepared script and whoever in the office answers the phone can give the caller the same response. It also makes it easy for me to choose a topic to write about in this column!
Boxelder bugs really donít do too much harm. They are quite friendly. Wherever you sit in the house, they will often find you. Theyíll land on your shoulder or come walking across the couch to be with you. They donít feed on anything in the house. They have a piercing sucking mouthpiece, and feed mainly on trees in the maple family, particularly boxelder and silver maple. They donít feed on houseplants, they donít eat human food, I donít even think they can drink water from a glass. In fact they donít even do that much damage to the trees that they do feed on.
But, they do like to arrive in numbers to spend the winter in your house. While boxelder bugs are present every year, we know that the populations increase dramatically in seasons and years that are drier than normal. Hence the big problems the past couple of years.
In the fall of the year, the boxelder bugs congregate in large masses on the south, sunny sides of rocks, trees, houses or other buildings. From there they fly off to move into a building to hibernate, or under the bark of a dead tree or in a pile of leaf litter, anyplace where they think they can be protected from the weather. If you find the exposed boxelder bugs, they are easily controlled with many common yard or garden insecticides, even hot soapy water.
The problem with most of the insecticides, is that you can only spray an area once a week. And for some reason, if you spray an area today with an insecticide, most of the boxelder bugs that congregate in that area tomorrow will be unaffected by the chemical. However, you can spray an area with the hot soapy water several times a day for as many days in a row as there are boxelder bugs or until you run out of soap. Spraying foundations and up under the siding with insecticide may help. You can also dust up under the siding of many houses with diatomaceous earth. This compound is related to chalk dust and the particles have many sharp edges that can scrape and cut the boxelder bugs causing them to dehydrate and die.
Once the boxelder bugs are in the house, your options are limited to capture and disposal (choose your disposal method), vacuuming or snipping in half with a pair of scissors. The latter seems to bring a great deal of satisfaction, especially to human males! If you use a vacuum cleaner, you may want to keep the hose end capped to keep them from coming back out. I strongly discourage any chemical spraying inside of homes because it simply isnít as effective as most people think.
What has caused the recent outbreak has been the bouts of warm weather. With cooler weather this week, Iím sure most homeowners are seeing a decrease (I didnít say absence, just a decrease) in the numbers of boxelder bugs that are being seen. But with each increasing warm spell more and more of the boxelder bugs will come out of hibernation and head for you, your lights or your windows.
The good news is, that by early April, most of them should be out of hibernation and either out of your house, or dead. The bad news is that that is still a month away, and there will be a lot of frustration between now and then!
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