boxelder bugs adults and nymphs

Boxelder bugs, adults and nymphs. Photo: Steven Katovich,

Updated: May 9, 2023

About boxelder bugs

  • The boxelder bug (Boisea trivittata) is a common pest of box elder trees.
  • Adult bugs are oval in shape and about ½ inch long when fully grown. They are dull black and marked with red (orange) along the edges of the front wings.
  • The immature bugs, called nymphs, are also red and black. The legs and short wing pads of the nymphs are black. The exposed abdomen is red. As the nymphs mature, the black wings grow longer and finally cover the red abdomen in the adult stage.

Life cycle

  • Eggs hatch into nymphs in late spring and early summer.
  • They primarily feed during the summer on leaves, twigs, and seeds of boxelder trees and sometimes other types of maples. Boxelder trees have separate male and female trees. Female trees bear winged seeds (samaras) and male trees do not. The largest bug populations tend to build up on female trees. These trees are not damaged by the feeding activity of the bugs.
  • In the fall (usually October in central Maryland), the red nymphs and the black adults collect in masses on the trunks of boxelder trees near the ground. They will sometimes congregate on landscape mulch but are not causing damage to plants. 
  • Adults later fly away to hibernate in buildings, rock piles, fallen leaves, or other sheltered places. At this time the bugs become a nuisance to residents.
  • Swarms of bugs can be found on sunny exposures on porches, windows, door frames, and on the siding. They prefer white surfaces on the south side of buildings. They hide in cracks during cold weather but can become active on warm days during the winter.
  • Bugs can find their way through cracks where they become a nuisance indoors. The boxelder bug is not harmful to humans or pets. It will not bite or reproduce indoors. However, there are reports that squashed bugs will stain fabrics.
boxelder bugs

Boxelder bug adult and nymphs. Photo: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International,


  • These are minor nuisance pests. An insecticide is not necessary or recommended to control them. 
  • Exclude them from coming indoors by weatherproofing your home. Use caulking around windows and weather stripping around doors. 
  • Eliminate hiding places such as piles of lumber, rocks, and trash close to the house to help reduce an infestation.
  • Vacuum or sweep up any bugs that enter the house. Discard them or release them back outdoors.

Additional resources

Boxelder Bugs and Leaf-footed Bugs | Ohio State University Extension

Boxelder Bugs | Penn State Extension

Note: Other University Extension websites may include information about pesticides that are not available, not legal to use, or not recommended in Maryland. Pesticides are hazardous and may harm organisms that are not the target pest. If you choose to use a pesticide, read and follow the directions and safety precautions on the label.