Thursday, July 10, 2008

Little Red Bugs

Little Red Bugs - © Dave Spier

Do you have little red bugs in your yard? Multiple clusters of 10 to 20 or so, hundreds all together, are crawling around the maple leaves that blew up against our garden fence last fall. I left the dead leaves there as mulch to control the weeds. Among the leaves are skeletonized maple seeds and the tiny bugs seem to be sucking some sort of nourishment from the seemingly dead and dried samaras (the botanical name for these winged seeds).

Closer examination of these insects with red abdomens (actually red with some bright-orange markings) reveals darker wing pads beginning to grow backwards from the shoulders. Small heads look back at me through dull red eyes. Long antennae could be mistaken for a fourth pair of legs. These are the nymphs of the Eastern Boxelder Bug, Boisea trivittata, (syn. Leptocoris trivittatus), a member of the Order Hemiptera, or True Bugs. After several more molts, each successively larger, the immature nymphs will transform into flying adults about a half-inch long. Most of the red color is lost, save for a few red edges on the forewings and three red lines on the thorax just behind the head. They are named for their favorite food, the seeds of Boxelder trees, also known as ash-leaved maples, a reference to the compound, opposite leaves reminiscent of the unrelated ash tree. Perhaps they can't tell the difference because Boxelder Bugs sometimes also feed on ash and, occasionally, a variety of other plants and fruits.

In the fall, adult Boxelder Bugs become a nuisance by inviting themselves into the warm, cozy interiors of our homes. The first sign of trouble may be swarms of the bugs on sunny exterior walls. From there they find tiny cracks through siding or past windows and under doors. The good news is they do not sting, transmit disease, damage structures, destroy fabrics, infest food or carry filth. When spring arrives, they leave in order to lay their eggs on Boxelder trees or other suitable venues which seem to have included the maple-leaf litter along my fence, although I do have a Boxelder tree on the northeast corner of the property some distance from the fence, and fortunately far from the house. Incubation of the eggs takes about two weeks and then "voila!" Swarms of little red bugs begin milling about.

In early July, we were also dealing with Squash Bugs, Squash Vine Borers, Three-lined Potato Beetles, White Cabbage Butterflies and Japanese Beetles as well as deer (I'm guessing) eating broccoli leaves. So far, the garden fence is rabbit and woodchuck proof and I think we found a good deer repellent now.
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photo notes: exposure was 1/200 sec. at f/13 using the Canon MP-E 65mm (1-5x, but actual magnification not recorded) with twin macro flash on a digital Rebel (6 mp)

This was written from a New York perspective (specifically the northern Finger Lakes region). Corrections, comments and questions are always welcome at or connect through my Facebook page and photo page. There's also a community-type page for The Northeast Naturalist. Other nature and geology topics can be found on the parallel blogs Adirondack Naturalist and Heading Out.
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(The original copyrighted article and photo [taken June 29] first appeared in the Times of Wayne County, July 7, 2008. All rights reserved.)

1 comment:

Robin Clifton said...

Milkweed bugs (instars/nymph) look very similar as well.