Thursday, May 10, 2012

Boxelder Bugs Be Gone!

A few weeks ago, my kids declared swarms of chiggers were on the porch and walkway.  "Really?," I asked.  To my knowledge, chiggers are only found in grass,weeds, and pine straw.  How could they be on our porch?  Besides that, I've never heard of a swarm of chiggers.  We opened the door and both kids proudly presented a swarm of tiny, red dots moving all over the walkway and porch.  The kids went on to tell us how these same 'chiggers' were all over the playgrounds/amphitheater at school that week - my daughter even had itty-bitty red spots on her shorts from where she sat down on them during an outdoor assembly.   I asked my husband to spray the area, which he did.  After a few days, I forgot all about it.  Until I went to prune the Crepe Myrtles yesterday.

We completed a major clean up of all the trees/shrubs in the back yard back in February.  Now that it's May, the Crepe Myrtles are really filling in with new growth, including suckers.  You know, those little shoots at the base of the tree that crop up each spring.  As I pulled and pruned, the surrounding area came alive with bugs.  They were in the pine straw, on the bark and stems of the tree, in the crevices.  All sizes, from itty-bitty to full grown.  Oddly, they were scurrying away from me, rather than attacking me.

Yuck!  I had never seen this bug before and assumed it was some sort of a beetle.  I walked by my mailbox, which has several Day lily plants surrounding it, and discovered another swarm of the same bugs in the pine straw.  Double yuck!  As I walked further around to another flower bed, this one with iris, lilies and a bunch of annuals, I saw yet another mass-several hundred of the bugs both in the pine straw and on one side of a  decorative rock.  Triple Yuck!  

I had to do something.  After an hour of searching the Internet for "red beetle," "red and black beetle," and such, I decided it was a Red Lilly Beetle. Or maybe a Soldier Beetle?  Or was it a Red Netwinged Beetle?  None of the varieties seemed very pleasant to me.  And, since we were just discussing splitting the lilies to fill in some other parts of our garden, I needed to protect my flowers, not sit by and watch them be eaten to shreds by a swarm of beetles.

A garden forum I came across mentioned picking Red Lilly Beetles off the plants individually and depositing them in a plastic bag for disposal.  I had too many to do that.  It also mentioned a specific garden spray, which seemed (to me at least) to be a good option no matter which beetle to be munching my garden.  So, I went off to the home improvement store and purchased a bottle of premixed spray.  I am not a big gardener, and did not want to mess with mixing, diluting, using a sprayer or hose, etc.  The packaging said it would kill on contact, and that was good enough for me.

Except, it did not kill them all on contact.  A half hour later, some were still scurrying around.  I returned to my Internet searches.  Pretty quickly, I discovered the bugs were not beetles after all.  They were Box Elder Bugs. Or Boxelder Bugs.  However it's spelled, they are, as many descriptions say, a harmless, though nuisance, bug found all over the country. Phew.  I have no idea if we have Box Elder Trees in the yard, though we certainly have Maples (they are also found in Maple and Ash trees).  As I read more and more, I realized that the "chiggers" my kids saw on the porch and walkway were, in fact, Boxelder Bug nymphs.  Newly hatched little guys who were looking for moisture and food. 

Most publications emphasize that they are harmless and that it is not essential to control the bugs during early summer.   A few offered an simple, inexpensive, homemade formula that will eliminate them.  I like easy and inexpensive.  So, I mixed up a batch and sprayed.  It worked like a charm. A half hour after spraying them down with the homemade spray, they were dead.    

Homemade Boxelder Bug Spray:
* 1-2 Tablespoons dish washing liquid
* Water to fill up spray bottle.
Shake up the mixture and spray the bugs.  

Why this works:  This soapy mixture breaks down the waxy coating from the bug's exoskeleton and causes the bug to dry out and die.  So, it is only effective when wet, and only when the bug is in direct contact with the soapy substance.  

I plan to use it when I notice a swarm again.  For now, I call them 'controlled!'

One final note:  I found this YouTube video to be extremely helpful in learning about the Boxelder Bug:


  1. So this only works to kill them when you see them? Not as preventative to keep them away?

  2. Right. It's only effective when the bug is in direct contact with the soapy substance.