Box Elder Bugs are true bugs belonging to the Rhopalidae family. First born, they leave their eggs as bright red circular instars. As they progress through 5 nymphal instar stages, they take on a progressively darker red color and their wing pads grow in the 5th instar stage to cover the thorax and part of the abdomen. The adults are easy to recognize with their elongated and flattened body shape showing mostly black coloring that is accented with a central and a pair of lateral thin red lines on their pronotum.
Since Box Elder Bugs are true bugs, they have piercing sucking mouth parts which allow them to efficiently feed on the sap from maple trees, seeds of box elder trees, apples, prunes, strawberries, and other fruit. When they aren’t feeding, they are efficient travelers which have the ability to fly up to two miles from their initial site of congregation.
Box Elder bugs typically have two generations per year occurring in late spring and late summer. Shortened breeding seasons in the far north may limit the second generation from being born or reaching full maturity. In the fall, they swarm places that will provide shelter during the winter months. Once temperatures rise, the bugs fly off to a strong food source and replenish their bodies and energy levels for about two weeks before the reproductive process starts the cycle over again.
Distorted leaves, loss of sap, and damage to seeds is not typically noted because the majority of it occurs on box elder trees (which few if any hold in high regard), fallen fruit, and trees with excess sap. The reason for concern with box elder bugs is related to their nuisance behavior in the fall and spring. As temperatures drop, an overwintering mechanism kicks in which causes them to hunt for a place to survive the winter. Like us, they prefer the most comfortable place possible and that just happens to be our homes more often than is liked. If their place of choice for overwintering happens to have a central heating system, they may stay active all winter long joining residents in the sitting room to watch the football playoffs unfold. During fall transitions into cracks, crevices, and voids of the home, Box Elder Bugs can be seen in masses of hundreds of bugs blanketing the warmer walls which are typically the south and west exterior walls. Residents passing in and out of buildings will fall victim to their clumsy and erratic flight patterns that bother people with bumps to the head and face, landings in the hair and clothing, and surprise tickling that comes from stow-away bugs crawling across people’s skin.
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