Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Boxelder Bug

The Boxelder Bug, Boisea trivittata, a rather good-looking bug if I do say so myself. I found myself along the municipal pier at Huron, Ohio, the other day and ran into a boatload of the little critters.

I will wager that I was one of few people there that day who appreciated the beauty of these neat little bugs with their nifty orange and black pattern and beady blood-red eyes. This type of bold advertisement color patterning is known as (word of the day) APOSEMATIC. Aposematism is all about predator deterrence - warning off the bad guys with a caution sign before they attempt to eat you. Many animals employ bright colors to let the world know of their dangers: poison dart frogs, coral snakes, insects that eat toxic plants such as milkweeds, etc.

I'm not sure what nasty juices create toxicity in Boxelder Bugs, but apparently they are foul to eat.

Here is why we saw so many of the bugs along the pier. All of those trees along the left are Box-elder, Acer negundo. It is a type of maple, and Box-elders hold their clusters of brown helicopter-like fruit well into winter, and the tree in the foreground is still loaded with fruit.

Box-elder Bugs tap sap from the trees, and live most of their lives in and around them.

Scanning far down the pier, I saw a small knot of people staring intently at the sunny face of a rock wall, and knew what they must be peering at. Sure enough, they were by turns fascinated and horrified by a massive cluster of Boxelder Bugs that had congregated on the limestone.

This behavior is what gives the bugs a bad name - they gather en masse seeking sheltered hibernation spots as the weather turns cold in late fall. Sometimes, their favored spots are on people's houses and this irks the homeowner.

I guess the average Suzie Homemaker is appalled to step out for the morning newspaper and encounter a scene like this on the faux wood siding. Can't blame 'em, I suppose. If you've had this issue, I have no experience in how to purge wild masses of Box-elder Bugs from one's homestead. But, just go to THE GOOGLE and type in "box-elder bug control" and many of the world's exterminators will gladly dispense advice.

Fortunately, at least for the bugs, this swarm was far from any dwellings and those that saw them rather seemed to enjoy the spectacle.



Randy Kreager said...

We had Box Elders in the backyard of our last home. Every year we would find thousands of those little devils on our foundation walls and sometimes in our basement. Did you ever step on one? Their insides are deep velvet red!

Carol said...

Always something fun to learn here. I heard you speak at the INPAWS conference in Indianapolis earlier in the month. Love these fascinating insect stories!

Anonymous said...

I always refer to Ohioline(OSU extension site- ohioline.osu.edu) when faced with queries on bugs. I looked this one up for someone several years ago who had them swarming his house. Ohioline has a nice fact sheet in the Home, Yard & Garden series on boxelder bugs- and lots more...

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi, I came here from Carol's blog. I was thinking boxelder bugs were harmless to people and their homes. I'll have to check further.

I enjoyed your photos. I'm at work, and my lunch break is over. I'll come back later to see more of your blog.

Jim McCormac said...

Thank you all for your comments, and I'm glad that you enjoy the blog! And Randy, had I known that Boxelder Bugs were velvet-red in the inside, I probably would have dissected one of them and posted the results here!

Teage O'Connor said...

Found this while browsing for info on boxelder. Fed a boxelder bug to my venus flytrap and it killed the plant! Aposematic indeed. Also, any idea if the bugs predate on the seeds of boxelder, causing the seeds to often be persistent through winter?