Known as the ‘democrat bugs’ because the time of year they tend to leave the trees and find a place to hibernate is the time people come out of their homes to vote, they are also sometimes referred to as Maple Bugs and the Zig Bugs. Boxelder bugs are 1/2 inch long, black colored creatures with yellow or orange markings on them. They are the pests that usually appear in winters, but they are not associated with any diseases or for biting humans. Although, there have been some reported cases of defensive biting in the past few years, there haven’t been instances of any damages caused by these bugs. However, their presence is a nuisance as their feces have been reported to stain the walls and other lightly-colored surfaces. Also, they enter homes in large numbers, and these large numbers are usually north of one thousand (1). Smashing them releases a foul odor (2). If there are boxelder bugs in your garden, they might harm the plants by distorting the foliage, causing the leaves to look yellow (chlorotic), if they increase in number (3). Before we learn about the ways to get rid of boxelder bugs, let’s discover how can you avert them in the first place.
Preventions for Boxelder Bugs
Usually, boxelder bugs live and thrive on maple trees and seed-bearing (female) boxelder trees, but there is a high possibility they are going to enter your house, especially if you have one of these trees around your house, to hibernate inside your house’s walls because they are looking for a place to wait out the winters. The best possible prevention to avoid boxelder bugs is the removal of female boxelder and maple trees near the house. Some other prevention methods are given below:
- Identify any cracks in the walls, around windows, and doors, and seal them in the summers when these bugs are out of your house, reproducing near plants and trees (4).
- Any other openings near the utility pipes, behind the chimneys, underneath wood fascia, etc. should also be sealed. Use a high-quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk (5).
- Use pesticides and insecticides around the parts of house where sealing is out of scope to prevent bug manifestation (6).
- If you have a garden around your home, you might have wood stacks, leaf and rock piles, and overgrown plants which provide the perfect environment for the habitat for boxelder bugs (7).
- Install door sweeps and/or thresholds, whichever applicable, on all the entry and exit points in the house, and a rubber seal at the bottom of the garage doors (8).
- For places where you can’t reach, use polyurethane expandable spray foam which hardens after it expands to seal any holes and openings (9).
- Boxelder bugs do not feed on the trees they live in, rather they feed on the seeds that fall from the trees. So removing the seeds that fall from the trees can help deter the growth of these insects (10).
- Use low-pressure sodium exterior lighting outside your house, as the traditional lights attract bugs and flies.
You are almost secure if you follow these steps, but you can never be 100% sure as these are very small and notorious, and the effect of pesticides fades because of direct sunlight. Somehow, these bugs may manage to enter your house, so you will probably want to get rid of them or kill them altogether. You can use these home remedies to get rid of boxelder bugs permanently which are mentioned in this article.
Home Remedies to get rid of Boxelder Bugs:
1) Vacuum Cleaner
This is one of the most simple and effective methods for getting rid of boxelder bugs, and you don’t need any special equipment for this task. Just vacuum clean the areas manifested by these bugs. You can also use a broom and a dustpan to sweep off these bugs. This method is useful if the area manifested by these bugs is not very large and there are not too many of these little pests.
When you are a using vacuum cleaner, just vacuum over the areas where you find them and freeze the vacuum bag overnight to kill them off before disposing of them in the trash can (11).
2) Washing With Water
If the boxelder bugs haven’t yet entered your house, but you can find them in your backyard or the porch area, you can wash them away with water. This way works best for the young boxelder bugs, also known as nymphs, because they tend to drown in the water, and soap helps disinfect the area (12, 13).
Just take a bucket full of warm water and spread the water around the manifested area, use a wiper to wipe away the water with the bugs from the surface.
3) Insecticidal Soap
This method is more useful when you want to remove boxelder bugs from the trees. It has shown great results when used with hot water for boxelder bug control, but you need to be cautious as hot water can ruin the water hose. You can mix insecticidal soap in hot water and use it, but make sure that you wash away all the bugs from the bark for better results (14).
You will need a bucket full of hot water and 4-5 tbsp of insecticidal soap to make a soapy water solution. Be cautious as you might burn your skin if you comes in contact with the hot water. Splash the water on the tree barks where you think boxelder bugs live, repeat this process if you think you have missed out on some of the bugs.
4) Pyrethrin Spray
This insecticidal spray is derived from chrysanthemum, and it kills boxelder bugs by targeting their nervous system and instantly breaking it down. This is an all-natural and organic insecticide, so you don’t need to worry about any health problems. You can buy this spray from any store near your home and use it in your garden. When buying this product, you need to make sure that you buy the one that doesn’t have any other synthetic adjuvants (15). Pyrethrin is also used in many pesticides that are targeted to kill the boxelder bug, but they come with other components also making them comparatively unsafe.
You can use this spray anywhere, but it is suggested that you use it on the trees where you find boxelder bugs because they reproduce outdoors and it would be a better idea to kill the insects and their eggs at the same time than to let them grow and then kill them.
5) Horticultural Oils
Also known as dormant oils because they are applied during the dormant season, which is winter in the case of boxelder bugs. The new, more refined horticultural oils are made from petroleum and other chemicals and can also be used in active seasons as a boxelder bug killer. The biggest feature they perform is that they block the breathing holes in trees and plants, which ultimately suffocates the insects living inside. They also help in destroying the eggs laid by these bugs in the trees, which is really helpful because it kills the problem at its source. These oils are very safe when used, according to the instructions present on the label, and do not leave any toxic residual on the tree after they evaporate. They are ideal because they are very cheap and easy to use by anyone. The only plant, out of the three plants where you can find boxelder bugs, and where you can not use these oils is Maple because it is sensitive to horticultural oils (16, 17). You can buy these oils online or at a nearby store.
There are two kinds available in the dormant oils, diluted and concentrated. Follow the label instructions to dilute the concentrated ones before use. They usually come in a spray bottle, but if they don’t, pour the liquid into a spray bottle before further steps. Spray on the plants and trees where boxelder bugs usually live, but make sure you do not use this oil in temperatures below 40ºF and above 80ºF. These oils should not be used in a very humid climates because the evaporation times will increase, and this can harm the leaves.
Borax is another name for the boric acid that has many uses around the house, but one use which you may not be aware of is that it is the best way to kill boxelder bugs and has been used in the United States since 1948. Boric acid and its sodium borate salts are natural pesticides, and when insects eat it, it affects the stomach and nervous system of the insect, which leaves them dead. Even if the insects do not eat borax, coming in contact with it can cause their skin to rash and cause severe damage to their body resulting in death (18).
All you need is some borax powder that you can sprinkle all around warm areas of your house because boxelder bugs like warm places to hibernate. Once they are dead, you can sweep them off and clear the area. Borax is highly toxic if it comes into contact with the skin, eyes or if it is consumed, so make sure you keep children and pets away wherever you sprinkle non-food grade borax.
7) Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is a powdery substance that is made from fossilized remains of little, aquatic organisms called diatoms. It consists of silica which is derived from the skeleton of diatoms. There are a lot of commercial products that contain diatomaceous earth, which is used to kill insects and pests. This is listed under ‘Generally recognized as safe’ by Food and Drug Administration and the food grade versions are totally safe, which are also used in feed and as clarifier for wine and beer. The substance isn’t poisonous, but it is lethal for insects as it causes them to dry out and die by absorbing all the oils and fats from the cuticle of the insect’s exoskeleton (19).
Use this powder exactly as borax by sprinkling it in the warm places and wherever you see the boxelder bugs. You can also use it in combination with borax for better efficacy. Just make sure that no kids or pets are allowed in the areas where you have sprinkled this powder, to be on the safer side.
Also Read: How to Get Rid of House Flies
Neem is a plant from the Mahogany family, native to Asia, particularly North and West India. Its scientific name is Azadirachta indica, and it has been used as a traditional and natural bug repellent for centuries. It is also used in a lot of medicines, ointments, lotions, etc. The active compounds among the 99 compounds in neem are azadirachtin, nimbin, nimbidin, and nimbolide which have the insecticidal effect. Neem oil can be used safely on trees as it is non-toxic and will help you get rid of those nasty pests quickly (20).
You can make a neem oil spray and/or grow neem in your garden. To make neem oil spray, you will need about 2 tbsp of neem essential oil and about 2 cups of water. Mix them both in a spray bottle and spray around the house, on your maple, ash, and especially, female boxelder tree.
9) Glue Board Trap
You can trap these bugs with the help of some sticky traps or glue board traps, by placing these boards near your house’s exterior entry points so that they get trapped even before they get in. You can buy these sticky traps from any nearby store for very low prices because they don’t comprise of any complex mechanism, just some sticky glue, and a cardboard. The concept of this board is simple. It uses sticky glue and any insect that lands on this board gets stuck, and is unable to move because of the glue. You can then throw the board in the trash can of burn it to make sure that these insects are properly disposed of (21, 22).
10) Coffee Can Trap
You can use this homemade trap in your garden for two purposes. One to identify the insect population in your garden, and two to trap insects that you don’t want in your garden and definitely don’t want inside your house. Bury the coffee can in the soil to the brim and put a bait in it, use boxelder seeds for boxelder bugs. Add some water in the can, so the nymphs will drown in the water and adults will be trapped in it. You can remove the can and dump these bugs properly by either freezing them, burning them, or dumping them in the trash in an airtight bag (23).
Use of substances like carbaryl should be your last resort after trying other non-toxic methods. If the manifestation has grown real bad in an ignored area and none of the other options seem viable, you can use carbaryl with proper caution (24). It is a white-colored solid compound sold under the name of Sevin in the stores, and a product by Bayer Company. It is used by a lot of farmers and homeowners due to its low toxicity and is the third most used insecticide in the United States.
You can buy one of the ready-to-use formulas or the concentrated formula. The concentrated formula needs to be diluted with water according to the instructions on the label and poured into a spray bottle before use, no need to dilute the ready-to-use formula. Spray the garden with this spray, and make sure you cover all the plants and trees. Spray all the parts of the plants and trees for best results. This will not only kill boxelder bugs, it will also help kill any other unnecessary bugs in your garden making it pest free.
12) Bt Or Bacillus Thuringiensis
This is another low-toxic substance that can be used in your garden if the boxelder bug manifestation increases to an uncontrollable number due to any reasons. Bt is a gram-positive, soil-dwelling bacterium, which comes under the category of biological pesticides. If the bug eats it, this bacterium dissolves in its gut and punches holes in the gut lining. This causes Bt to spill out of the gut and spread in the whole body of the insect causing germination in the insect and ultimately killing it (25). This has been used by farmers and homeowners to safely make their garden or farm pest free.
There are different strains of Bt available in the market, you can look for the one which is targeted towards this particular bug. This is important because you don’t want the helpful garden bugs like a ladybug, praying mantis, ground beetles, spiders, etc, harmed in the process of killing the pests. The application is similar to carbaryl, just spray the liquid in your garden and see the results.
If you don’t have any bird allergies, you can keep some chickens, guinea hens, or ducks in your garden to reduce the population of boxelder bugs. About 10-15% of the poultry’s diet is made up of insects and eating boxelder bugs can be their option if other, more pleasant bugs are not available as a food source. Poultry will not help you finish all the boxelder bugs. Rather they will reduce the population to a more controllable number, and you need to use one of the other methods to get rid of the remaining ones. This method has worked for some and not for others, and it was noticed that if there are a high number of bugs, it doesn’t make a difference by the amount consumed by the poultry.
Also Read: 20 Home Remedies for Roaches
What To Do If A Boxelder Bug Bites You?
First of all, these bugs do not bite humans because they have nothing to do with humans. The food that they eat comes from plants and trees, they live in the garden and try to enter your home only for hibernation. The rare instances where boxelder bugs can bite you is when you are trying to destroy their colony or remove them from your house. This will only be a defensive reaction from the bug and will not cause any serious problems as these bugs are free of poison or any other disease-carrying microorganisms. If this happens with you, there is no need to panic. The bite punctures the skin causing irritation and itchiness and looks exactly like a mosquito bite, and the treatment will also be same as a mosquito bite (26). Use one of the following home remedies to treat a boxelder bug bite:
- Peppermint Oil: Peppermint essential oil is a natural cooling and calming agent, and it can be applied on various bites and rashes including this bug’s bite. Rub some peppermint oil on the bite for instant relief (27).
- Ice: Ice packs are a solution for any rash on the body, it also helps calm the bite from a boxelder bug. Put some ice in a cool, moist cloth and hold it on the bite to alleviate the pain and discomfort (28).
- Baking Soda: Baking soda is a boon when it comes to treating bug bites, especially the bites which haven’t transmitted any harmful, disease-causing microorganisms. Mix baking soda with water and make a smooth paste, apply it on and around the bite like an anti-septic cream. Remember to never use baking soda on an open wound (29).
- Meat Tenderizer: Using meat tenderizer may not sound like your general idea of a home remedy, but it actually works. Just mix it with water to make a paste, which you can apply on the bite to stabilize it (30).
- Medicinal Lotions: Your nonprescription hydrocortisone cream or a calamine lotion are the best bid when treating an uninfected bug bite (31).
You can do nothing about these bugs and be absolutely fine because they don’t pose a problem unless there are a lot of them, but it is suggested that you stop that from happening by taking the preventive measures mentioned in the beginning. Even then, if these bugs manage to multiply enough to cause a nuisance, which is a very rare chance, you can use these methods to get rid of boxelder bugs. The degree of effectiveness and time taken varies in all the methods, but if you use them as explained, you can make your house and garden free of these bugs.