Milkweed Bug vs. Box Elder Bug

Milkweed bugs look remarkably like boxelder bugs until you compare the two together. The difference is then quite noticeable. Milkweed bugs are primarily found on or near milkweed and some other plants of the same family. Milkweed bugs are not normally found indoors-unless you have a field full of milkweed.

Milkweed bugs

Milkweed Life Cycle

Milkweed bugs are true bugs; beetles, moths, flies, and butterflies are not. Bugs have the usual complement of structures that they share with just about all other insects: six legs, three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), and two antennae. True bugs (order Hemiptera) do not have mouths for biting and chewing food—they have a tube like beak for sucking fluids. The milkweed bug in nature sucks nutrients from milkweed seeds, but those in the classroom have been bred to feed exclusively on sunflower seeds.

Another characteristic of milkweed bugs specifically is the stages they go through from hatching to maturity. Bugs go through simple metamorphosis. The insect emerges from an egg looking like a tiny version of the adult, with slight differences in body proportions and incompletely developed wings. The immature bugs are called nymphs. Newly hatched nymphs are analogous to the larvae of insects that go through complete metamorphosis, in that their prime directive is to eat and grow. As with all insects, in order to grow the nymphs must molt periodically. Just after molting the bug is creamy yellow with bright red legs and antennae. Within a few hours the body turns dark orange, and the legs and antennae resume their usual black color. The crispy little molts can be seen in the milkweed bug habitat about a week after the bugs hatch. Students may think their milkweed bugs are dying or that spider and ants have invaded the habitat. It may take a while for students to figure out what the molts really are.

Boxelder Bug

As an adult, boxelder bugs reach a length of ½ inches. They are mostly black with red lines decorating their backs. Typically, these bugs become a nuisance during the fall and early spring.

Boxelder bugs eat a host of plants. However, they tend to favor boxelder seed pods found on female boxelder trees. If there is a female boxelder tree in your neighborhood then the odds of having a boxelder infestation increases.

Boxelder bugs seek shelter in protected places. Typical shelter areas include cracks or crevices in walls, doors, under windows and around foundations. The bugs particularly favor south and west exposures.

Box elder bugs, also spelled boxelder, (Boisea trivittata) belong to the true bug family Rhopalidae. They are a harmless, nuisance pest, and arrive in both the spring and fall seasons. In the spring, they emerge from their overwintering spots to begin breeding again. The first batch of nymphs arrives around 11–19 days later. In the fall, box elder bugs congregate on south facing walls of structures in preparation for winter hiding, and emit an odor to attract other box elder bugs to their location. Take the offensive, and attack the fall box elder bugs to keep them from becoming spring box elder bugs.

These highly specialized insects feed almost exclusively on the seeds of Acer species. The boxelder bug is sometimes known as a garage beetle.

The good thing is that boxelder bugs are harmless. They carry no diseases, and the worst they can do is pinch you causing slight discomfort. Another relief is that they will not damage your property.  Your best bet in getting rid of these overwhelming bugs is to call your Minnesota Pest Control Expert. They come in huge swarms, and no matter how many you get rid of, more keep coming!

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