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Many insects can be intriguing

Masses of boxelder bugs congregate on a retaining wall block to keep warm in the sun Wednesday. John Zvirovski / The Sun

When many of us see a solitary bug in the house or garden, many of us become intrigued by it and tend to look at it a little closer. We observe its colors and how it moves. We look to see if it looks scary like a spider or pretty like a ladybug. However, anytime we see them in mass swarming around, regardless if they are indoors or out in the garden, frankly they give us all the creeps. Often it is their sheer numbers that tend to freak us out and not the individual bugs themselves.

One of the bugs many of us are familiar with this time of year is the boxelder bug. This bug usually is most prevalent to us in the spring and fall. We find them on the sunny sides of buildings, trees and other objects by the hundreds trying to warm themselves.

For the most part, many of us are completely unfamiliar with what they feed on and what kind of trouble they can cause. The facts of this insect might just surprise you. Other than being a nuisance in the home or garden by their sheer numbers, they are quite harmless to people or plants.

They do not bite or eat the leaves of most vegetation. Boxelder bugs’ prime food source are the seeds of female boxelder trees, seeds of many maple selections and occasionally ash tree seeds. Some will feed on lower vegetation on the ground, but this is rarely noticeable. Two weeks into feeding during the spring, these bugs will begin their mating process and deposit their eggs on the trunks, branches and leaves of their host trees.

Young boxelder bugs, or nymphs, are bright red in color and quite small. As they mature, they develop a more striped pattern of red and black coloring. The insect is about a halfinch-long when mature, with a narrow core and a pointed nose. They crawl during their juvenile stages, but will be able to fly as an adult. Most will only fly up to a block or two at any given time, but can travel as far as 2 miles.

They enjoy warm locations, thus we usually see them gathered by the dozens in many places. It is the warmth and not the color of a structure or object that encourages them to congregate in any given location.

Boxelder bugs are present every year during the warmer months, but in some years they are much more numerous than others. Their large numbers are usually the result of a mild spring followed by a hot and dry summer. The conditions this past year were ideal for their large numbers in our gardens.

In the fall season when the weather tends to become cooler, these insects will try and enter the home to winter over in a warm location. Oftentimes you will find them by a sunny window where they try and stay warm. Many times they will die in the home as they remain active in warmer temperatures but do not reproduce. When they burrow into cracks and crevasses around the house outdoors, they will hibernate until the warm temperatures of spring bring them out of their slumber to begin a new life cycle.

I have to admit, when I come across huge infestations of these insects outside, I get a little creeped, but they are quite harmless so that uneasiness quickly subsides to calmness. These are another part of nature’s creatures that just happen to be abundant in the garden. The good thing is they do not harm anything in the landscape so we need to appreciate their uniqueness without any concern of being potential garden problems. I like to think of them as just another insect like the ladybug; pretty and abundant or … pretty abundant!

Once the temperatures regulate into colder autumn numbers, you will see less of these insects outdoors, but there may be extras in the home for a little while. Rest assured, the active ones in the home have a very short life cycle and will soon meet their own demise.

  
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