What Do Boxelder Bugs Eat? {Do They Cause Damage?}

Swarms of black and orange boxelders bugs are everywhere in the summer and fall months. With so many around you’re probably wondering if there is some type of food that’s attracting them to your yard. But what do boxelder bugs eat?

Boxelder bugs eat sap and juices from trees, leaves, and seeds. Seed-bearing trees such as boxelder, ash, and silver maple trees are their favorite. Boxelder bugs will sometimes feed on the juice of fruits and vegetable foliage. Boxelder bugs do not eat in the winter months as they are in a state of hibernation.

You’re maybe wondering if there are any other foods that boxelder bugs eat. Maybe you’ve seen them gathering in your home or yard and are worried they’ll cause some damage. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about what boxelder bugs eat.

Sound good? Then let’s go.

What Do Boxelder Bugs Eat?

Boxelder bugs are sap-feeding insects. That means their diet consists of only the sap and liquids in plants, foliage, and fruits. The boxelder bugs do not eat the actual plant itself.

Boxelder bugs get their name from the fact that they have a preference for the boxelder tree. They are attracted to seed-bearing trees, which can provide a lot of food for swarms of box elder bugs.

The boxelder bugs will lay their eggs on the boxelder trees. This means when they hatch, the baby boxelder nymphs have a rich food source.

You may see boxelder bugs on other trees such as ash, elder, or fruit trees. However, they cannot complete a life cycle on these trees. That means they will always need a boxelder or maple tree close by.

How do boxelder bugs feed?

Boxelder bugs have a proboscis which is a long sucker-like mouth you see on mosquitos.

Their mouth will only pierce through the surface of plants, fruit, or seeds. Then suck the sap or liquids inside. Think of it like you would drink out of a juice pouch, pierce with the straw, then drink.

The sap is full of sugary nutrients and water that the boxelder bugs need to fly around, mate and lay eggs.

Do Boxelder bugs eat insects?

Boxelder bugs do not have any type of chewing mouth, stinger, or pincers which they use to feed on other smaller insects. Their mouths can only pierce and drink sap and liquids.

Boxelder bugs do not eat any insects, including:

  • Aphids
  • Caterpillars
  • Spiders
  • Ants
  • Mites
  • Ladybugs
  • Other Boxelder bugs

A boxelder bug will only bite another insect or animal if they are under threat. This is a piercing action in self-defense to hurt the predator.

Other bugs will prey on boxelder bugs to eat them. As a method of protection, the boxelder bugs release a pungent odor and vile taste. This happens once dead to ward off other animals from eating more.

Do Boxelder Bugs Eat Plants?

As boxelder bugs snack on plant foliage, they may be considered pest bugs. Yet, even in swarms, boxelder bugs usually do very little damage to plants.

The boxelder bugs don’t eat the actual plant itself, only the liquids inside. At most, they may cause a bit of superficial discoloration, leaf curling, or bruising.

That means that boxelder bugs are of little concern to gardeners and won’t destroy any crops or plants.

Do Boxelder bugs eat Fruit?

You may see boxelder bugs on fruit. They are not eating the fruit flesh but only the fruit juices inside.

You’re likely to see boxelder bugs on softer fruits such as:

  • Apples
  • Plums
  • Cherries
  • Peaches
  • Pears

The boxelder bugs will leave a surface level of damage on the fruit. If you look at the fruit skin closely, it will have tiny holes. This is where the boxelder bug has pierced its mouth through the surface.

Another issue is that boxelder bugs can cause an early fruit drop by dehydrating the plants and fruits. This is more likely to happen if you have a large swarm of boxelder bugs feeding on your fruit trees.

Boxelder bugs may not feed on the fruit but more so on the leaf foliage. This is more common with soft fruits such as strawberries or tomatoes.

Do Boxelder bugs eat Vegetables?

Boxelder bugs prefer sweet liquids like sap, they are not known to eat vegetables. However, you may find them on the foliage of your vegetable plants. It’s likely the enjoying the plant leaves rather than the vegetable itself.  Boxelder bugs also love sunny places, so they may just be resting in a warm sunny area.

You may find boxelder bugs on the leaves of sun-loving vegetable plants such as:

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Peppers
  • Zucchini
  • Summer Squash
  • Swiss chard
  • Okra
  • Green Beans
  • Eggplants
  • Cucumbers

Do Boxelder bugs eat flowers?

Boxelder bugs don’t eat flowers. However, they may try to drink nectar from nectar-producing flowers. This would only normally happen if the food was scarce for the boxelders bugs.

They try to avoid this by keeping close to the trees they like to feed on.

What do boxelder bugs eat in winter?

Boxelder bugs go into a state of hibernation over winter. That means they don’t eat anything over the winter months.

Insect hibernation means that the boxelder bugs do into a dormant state. This means a complete shut down of their body so it can survive without energy.

During this time, boxelder bugs will try to hide in a warm, safe shelter place in foliage, homes, and under rocks.

What do boxelder bugs drink?

Boxelder bugs will get hydration from drinking the liquids they suck out of the plants. They do not need to find extra sources of fresh water.

The liquids which boxelder bugs get from plants are full of nutrients. This helps them survive and thrive.

What do Box Elder bugs eat in my home?

You may find a boxelder bug in your home over winter. They will be in a state of hibernation and will not be eating anything.

Suppose you find a boxelder bug in your home over the summer. Don’t worry. Boxelder bugs are not destructive to your property. It probably stumbled onto your property by accident. But more likely looking for a place to keep warm or hibernate for the winter.

Boxelder bugs will not be eating your clothes or any wood in your home. They simply don’t have the correct mouths to eat these materials.

What do boxelder bugs hate?

There are a few plants you can use in your yard to deter boxelder bugs from tying the feed or even rest there.

The most effective plants to use are:

  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Clove

These plants most likely won’t stop them from coming altogether. But, they will make it uncomfortable for the boxelder bugs to stick around. Boxelder bugs are not so bad in small numbers, but large swarms are what people find most of a nuisance. If you grow these plants near areas near a boxelder bug food source, it may help to reduce the swarms.

Final thoughts

You’ll see that boxelder bogs are mainly sap eaters. This means they’ll only at the liquids from trees, plants, leaves, and fruits.

Despite them eating in large numbers, they don’t do much damage to plants, fruits, or vegetables in your yards. That means if you’re a keen gardener, you won’t need to worry about them destroying your displays or crops.

If you have a boxelder, maple, or ash tree nearby, you’ll likely see a lot of boxelder bugs in summer and fall. You can try to deter large swarms by planting lavender, clove, or sage to keep their numbers down.

12 thoughts on “What Do Boxelder Bugs Eat? {Do They Cause Damage?}”

  1. I am a horticultural technician. I maintain indoor plants found in offices, medical facilities, etc. Two locations are heavily infested with box alder bugs this winter. They hide in and under flower pots. A few plants have been damaged. Will insecticidal soap deter them?

    • Hi Mary Ann,
      I don’t recommend using chemical insecticides, especially on indoor plants where they may be touched. Ideally, if the point of entry for the bugs can be sealed off, this should reduce the numbers. Otherwise, try spraying the plants with strong scents such as lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree oil, cinnamon, clove, or citronella. They will make the plants smell nice, but deter the box elders from sticking around.

  2. How do I distinguish between a boxelder bug and a cotton stainer? They look the same to me. My yard is full of them and they are eating my variegated ginger plants.

    • Hi Debbie, it sure can be hard to tell the two apart. Boxelder bugs are more orange with a black body and legs. Cotton bugs typically have a more red shade with a red body and legs. As a general rule of thumb cotton stainers are slightly larger than box elder bugs. The fact that your plants are being eaten by these bugs makes me think it likely isn’t box elder bugs, they usually only cause a little cosmetic damage to plants.

  3. Liked your article it put my mind at ease. I have a large number of these pests in my yard and around a maple tree which is very large on the side of my house. But I was more worried about the American red maple tree I just planted where a large number of these pests seem to be. It has not had time to establish itself and is just now producing leaves. Thank you for enlightening me on these insects.

  4. I have a large number of boxelder bugs that invade and drive my slightly insane yearly from April – October. They start the season on my maple trees, procreating like crazy, and then make their way through the garden to the strawberries, cucumber plants, raspberries, peaches, and blackberries. They can completely dehydrate a strawberry and leave blackberries and raspberries looking pretty bad as well. They lay eggs wherever they can – outside and inside (they love nooks and crannies) and we have become familiar with the baby, kid, and teenager boxelders (as my kids have dubbed the stages before they develop wings). When I have moments of madness, I attempt to control them with a spray bottle of water and a bit of dish soap. It does kill them after a bit, as the soap breaks down their exoskeleton. We also have observed that the young boxelders are quick to feed on the dead bodies of the adult boxelders.
    Reading your article, I note that “the boxelder cannot complete it’s life cycle without a boxelder tree”. Is that really true? How close does that tree need to be for the boxelders to be on my property? I have always assumed that these pests overwinter on my maple trees or a neighbor’s elm tree.

    • Hi Amy,
      Those box elders sure can be tricky to keep under control. Good catch in the article by the way. It should read maple tree and not just boxelder tree. So you’re right, it’s the maple tree that’s attacking them, as they’ll lay their eggs to hatch there each year. I’ll amend the article so as not to confuse other readers.

    • They do extensive damage to my fruits as well. We live in an area where large stands of Maple trees occur naturally. This year they have “sucked” my strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and mulberries dry. They are so invasive and I am at a loss of what to do. We have thousands every year and they are multiplying like crazy. I am ready to give up growing any more fruit. Next to ripen will be the apples and grapes and they will attack those as well. I wish there were a solution. We can’t cut down all the maples since they are also on other peoples properties. Someone has to invent a pheromone trap please! I feel you pain!

  5. Boxelder bugs are sucking my tomatoes. Should I throw them away or can the tomatoes be rescued by cooking? I see tiny holes and a golden yellow mottling on the stem end of tomatoes. Are they disease carrying?

  6. Hi I found a Boxelder in my home this winter.

    I am wondering what I should do to take care of it until summer.

    If I let it outside, it will surely freeze.

    I tried letting it out in my garage but it stayed in the jar all day not moving until I brought him back inside and he warmed up

    thanks for your help,

    • Hi Joey,
      You don’t need to do anything to take care of the box elder, and it’s come into your home for warmth. When it goes outside, its body temperature drops to a state called diapause; this is how insects survive winter. That means it’s still alive, but all its necessary functions have slowed to the minimum. I would look in warm, dry areas of your home, such as an attack or crawl space, just in case you have a more extensive infestation.


Leave a Comment