SEPTEMBER
1988

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

9-22-88

Insect Groupies

Every rock and movie star has groupies. So do athletes. On the golf links Arnie Palmer had his army. These human hangers-on are common around the rich and famous.

Even insects have groupies—at least they hang around in groups. One such insect groupie is the boxelder bug. No famous individual attracts these bugs. They just hang around for the warmth of it. You see, they gather in groups to absorb the rays of the sun.

Each fall as the season turns cooler, boxelder bugs begin to congregate in great numbers. These groups of strikingly marked red and black insects can be found everywhere. On trucks of trees, on porches, on walls and even on sidewalks. Often the presence of large numbers of boxelder bugs causes a great deal of concern among humans in the vicinity.

Such concern is unwarranted. Boxelder bugs can neither sting nor bite. They do not harm food or clothing. However, they do seek protection during the winter months in the sheltered places. Sometimes these places are our homes. However, most homeowners take a fairly dim view of sharing their domicile with a bunch of insect groupies.

Because of such concern, homeowners have been known to take drastic measures to eliminate boxelder bugs. One such method is to attempt to burn the bugs. This approach generally involves a homemade torch on a pole. But there are secondary effects of such an effort. For instance, singed hair-from falling pieces of disintegrating torch. And we cannot forget the possibility of an emergency run by the fire department if the fire gets a little out of hand!

A better approach is to spray a common insecticide. Another way to reduce the problem is to eliminate boxelder trees in the vicinity of the house. These insects feed primarily on the seeds of the boxelder tree, but they also consume seeds of ash trees. Removal of the food source—in this case, the trees—will reduce the population to low levels.

Boxelder bugs characteristically have a disagreeable odor and taste. This is well known to people who have accidentally encountered this insect. Such a bad taste—a fact advertised by its bright color—keeps the insect from being eaten by insect predators.

Boxelder bugs aren't called boxelder bugs by everyone. In parts of the Midwest, these insects are known as Democrats. An unusual name compared to other common names of insects. I was once told that the name Democrat reflected the habits of these insects—because they always hang around in little groups and raise a stink. Of course, the fellow who mentioned that was in fact a Republican!

Even insects like the boxelder bug aren't immune to politics.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Carol McGrew