USU boxelder bug population spikes in spring

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They’re everywhere — crawling on walls, windowsills and anywhere they can soak in the sun. Boxelder bugs thrive in the warmth of spring.

Utah State University entomology expert Diane Alston explained that spring is the prime mating season for boxelder bugs. Bugs who survived the winter congregate around female, seed-bearing boxelder trees to lay their eggs.

According to Alston, boxelder bugs thrive in warm, dry climates, making Utah’s spring season an ideal home for these insects.

Those who have boxelder bugs honeymooning in trees surrounding their home, school or workplace may find the bugs a nuisance. Older homes near boxelder trees or similar maple trees are particularly at risk for infestation, as these tiny bugs can enter through cracks and crevices. For this reason, boxelder bugs take shelter in campus buildings like Ray B. West and Old Main.

Nathan Tippetts, a sophomore, said he’s had regular run-ins with the bugs during classes in the Family Life building.

“I sit right next to the window and they’re constantly crawling on my notes and it just grosses me out,” Tippetts said.

Sara McCurdy, a junior, said she encountered a similar problem in the Ray B. West building.

“This is what freaks me out,” McCurdy said, pointing to the ceiling lights, “not only that they’re on the floor, but that they’re in the lights and nobody cleans them out.”

Alston said people may tend to think there are more bugs indoors during the spring than outdoors, since the bugs are such a bother. When, in fact, more bugs seek indoor shelter during the winter as a means of survival.

Alston is also the Integrated Pest Management coordinator for USU Extension, an organization of USU that aims to educate the community on matters relevant to the public. Alston rarely recommends using chemicals inside a building to oust boxelder bugs, as they can have undesirable effects on those exposed to them, especially children.

Smashing the bugs is not the best method either, Alston said. The bugs can leave a nasty red stain when smashed. The insects’ feces can be a nuisance, as well. She suggested disposing of the bugs and their feces with a vacuum cleaner.

Rather than chemicals or blunt force, exclusion is actually the best method for keeping these pests at bay, Alston said.

“Fill in cracks and crevices. Make sure you have good windows that fit tightly and good window screens,” Alston said.

Spraying windows and walls with a dish soap and water solution is another effective way to get rid of boxelder bugs, Alston said. The bugs have a waxy coating on the outsides of their bodies. When this wax coating comes in contact with soap, it deteriorates and the bug eventually dries up.

Alston said though boxelder bugs certainly bother people, they are not directly harmful to humans, animals or buildings. They do not bite, pinch or sting.

They can, however, be a pest from an agricultural standpoint. The bugs love to feed on sweet fruits like peaches, which can be detrimental to the produce market.

In the past, boxelder bugs have wreaked havoc on Brigham City’s prized peaches, sometimes mere days before harvest. Brigham City is located in the aptly-named Box Elder County.

“It can have a big economic impact on the fruitgrowers,” Alston said.

According to Alston, boxelder bugs can’t seem to find their place in the food chain. She said most animals are unwilling to snack on the bugs due to their foul flavor and odor. She also said they provide no benefit to the boxelder trees. Boxelder bugs may well be the selfish little critters people make them out to be.

“Obviously, they benefit themselves,” Alston said, “but beyond that, what is their role in the ecosystem?”

As for this year’s boxelder bug forecast, Alston said population sizes can be difficult to predict.

However, things may be “heating up” for the bugs. Since 2015 and 2016 were two of the hottest years ever recorded, Alston said she’s seen odd trends in the boxelder bug population.

She believes warmer temperatures may have sped up boxelder growth.

Due to the past few summers’ scorching temperatures, Alston said she thought two generations of boxelder bugs may have popped up, whereas cooler temperatures normally allow for one generation each summer. So there is a chance there may be more of these insects around to “bug” people in the future.

“Maybe it won’t make much difference in the big picture,” Alston said, “but if our trend is to get warmer and warmer, then maybe they’ll have two complete generations and we could have an exponentially higher population. Insects are a good indicator of what’s happening with the environment because they are so closely tied to it.”



Photo by Ethan Babcock

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  1. Susan Jones

    Normally at this time of year, I can collect approximately 40 Box Elder Bugs a day in a south facing room of my 100+ year old home. I’ve noticed this fall though, that there are none. It’s very weird. What’s up with that? I’m in SLC, Utah.

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