Boxelder bugs invading North Country; warm spring, dry summer blamed
Sunday, October 21, 2012 - 8:30 am

Elaine Perry submitted this photo of Boxelder bugs in her lawn. “Our lawn was covered with them almost all summer. They seemed to be feeding on the seeds from our maple tree,” she said. “There were thousands of them.”Elaine Perry submitted this photo of Boxelder bugs in her lawn. “Our lawn was covered with them almost all summer. They seemed to be feeding on the seeds from our maple tree,” she said. “There were thousands of them.”

By CRAIG FREILICH

Boxelder bugs have been swarming like a plague on the sunlit sides of North Country houses, around doors and windows, and sometimes indoors.

“They just keep coming and coming,” said Paul Hetzler of Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County of the bugs, which look a bit like fireflies but with black and red wings.

Boxelder bugs, which go by lots of other names, have emerged this year thanks to the warm spring followed a hot dry summer, “the perfect conditions” for them, Hetzler said.

Hetzler’s getting lots of calls, “dozens and dozens,” from Canton, Potsdam, Madrid, Brasher, Massena, Ogdensburg, and elsewhere.

Jefferson County extension agent Sue Gwize told Hetzler that in the 11 years she has worked there, she’s never had so many calls about anything.

“It’s pretty widespread,” Hetzler said, noting that he is hearing about the problem from lots of other extension agents all over the state.

Many people have never noticed them at all before. The half-inch black bugs with a couple of streaks of red on their backs are usually around in warm weather, but not in such numbers as we have this year.

It’s not unprecedented. Records indicate there have been several boxelder bug outbreaks in the North Country in the last 80 years big enough to be noted, Hetzler said.

But few people remember an outbreak like this year’s.

“People are saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’”

When it cools, they seek shelter.

“They get into homes quite easily, especially if there is vinyl siding,” and when the sun comes and shines on the south and west walls, “they will migrate toward the warmer surfaces,” Hetzler said. Like other bugs, they will congregate around doors and windows if they are looking for a way in.

Cornell Cooperative Extension does not recommend the use of insecticides inside the house, especially since the bugs don’t pose any kind of health or safety threat. They’re just not pretty to most people.

“If they’re massing outside, you can use Malathion or Sevin. Inside you can just vacuum them up.

“If you have a canister vacuum, you can take the attachment off the end of the hose, put a nylon stocking inside the hose fixing the open end with tape or a rubber band.”

Then just vacuum away, pulling the stocking out when it’s full and drowning the bugs in soapy water.

“That would help keep the numbers in check.”

But it’s unlikely you will eliminate them, even with insecticide.

“It’s especially hard in an older house to find every nook and cranny. So maybe it’s time to do some weatherization and bug proofing at the same time. You can caulk joints, check your weather stripping and door sweeps, and save on your energy bill, too.”

What will draw them to an area is what they eat. In this case, as you might expect, their favorite is the sap of the box elder, but they’re happy with most elders and other members of the maple family, so if they’re really bugging you, you can rip out all your maples, and it might help.

“When the population of an insect gets too high, then any number of diseases can act to bring their numbers down.

“We need a good freeze to really knock the numbers down,” Hetzler said.

But in the meantime there’s nothing to worry about, since they are not known to carry human diseases and won’t decimate any people-food crops.