Boisea trivittataboxelder bug

Geographic Range

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. (Robinson, 2005)


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. (Cotinis, 2012; Hahn and Ascerno, 2012; Klass, 2009; Robinson, 2005; Schaefer, 2003)

Physical Description

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. ("American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico", 2000; Bauernfeind, 2005; Carroll and Perreira, 2011; Ciesla, 2011; Gunn and Bechinski, 2008; Hahn and Ascerno, 2012; Klass, 2009; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • female larger
  • Range length
    10 to 14 mm
    0.39 to 0.55 in
  • Average length
    12.7 mm
    0.50 in


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. (Bauernfeind, 2005; Ciesla, 2011; Gunn and Bechinski, 2008; Young, 1940)


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. (Aldrich, et al., 1990; Bauernfeind, 2005; Petrie, 2009)

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. (Bauernfeind, 2005; Ciesla, 2011; Hahn and Ascerno, 2012; Robinson, 2005; Smith and Shepherd, 1937; Yoder and Robinson, 1990)

  • 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

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. (Miller, et al., 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Boxelder bugs have a short lifespan of approximately one year. (Turpin, 2003)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 years


Boxelder bugs reside in large, gregarious groups. Because of this tendency, they are described as semi-social. These groups have no structure and are a random aggregation of individuals. They hibernate together during the winter season in sheltered, dry places. When the temperature increases, they become active and look for food. They feed constantly throughout the spring and summer and prefer to aggregate in warm areas, usually in the sun. Boxelder bugs often fly onto host trees to mate or lay eggs. (Aldrich, et al., 1990; Hahn and Ascerno, 2012; Klass, 2009; Robinson, 2005)

  • Range territory size
    4 (high) km^2

Home Range

Boxelder bugs are able to fly 3 to 4 kilometers in search of a site to overwinter. (Robinson, 2005)

Communication and Perception

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. (Aldrich, et al., 1990; Bauernfeind, 2005; Millar, 2006)

Food Habits

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. (Ciesla, 2011; Hahn and Ascerno, 2012; Robinson, 2005; Smith and Shepherd, 1937)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


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. (Aldrich, et al., 1990; Bauernfeind, 2005; Ciesla, 2011; "Missouri Department of Conservation", 2012; Hahn and Ascerno, 2012; Robinson, 2005; Smith and Shepherd, 1937)

Ecosystem Roles

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. (Carroll and Perreira, 2011; "Missouri Department of Conservation", 2012; Cotinis, 2012; Kay, 1940; Robinson, 2005; Smith and Shepherd, 1937)

Species Used as Host
  • bigtooth maples (Acer grandidentatum)
  • boxelder maples (Acer negundo)
  • silver maples (Acer saccharinum)
  • trident maples (Acer buergerianum)
  • wingleaf soapberries (Sapindus saponaria)
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • amoebas (Endolimax leptocoridis)
  • amoebas (Entamoeba polypodia)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive economic effects of boxelder bugs on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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. (Cotinis, 2012; Hahn and Ascerno, 2012; Klass, 2009)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings
  • household pest

Conservation Status

Boxelder bugs exist in large numbers and are not endangered.

Other Comments

Boisea trivittata was previously known as Boisea trivittata. Boxelder bugs are a member of the family Rhopalidae, which are known as scentless plant bugs. However, boxelder bugs are extremely redolent. (Carroll, 2010)


Alisa Terry (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


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