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Residents of Portage overwhelmed by boxelder bugs

The bugs outnumber humans in portage — population 245

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 5 2015 3:00 a.m. MDT

Boxelder bugs are taking over Nick Tree's basement in Portage, Box Elder County. The nuisances likely thrive now due to a mild winter and warm summer, a bug expert says.   (Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson, Deseret News) Boxelder bugs are taking over Nick Tree's basement in Portage, Box Elder County. The nuisances likely thrive now due to a mild winter and warm summer, a bug expert says. (Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson, Deseret News)

PORTAGE, Box Elder County — Little black and red bugs are causing a big nuisance for some residents in this small town near the Utah-Idaho border.

The combination of a mild winter, warm summer and wet weather last year has bred a very buggy fall, said Diane Alston, Utah State University entomologist.

"We likely had another generation or two of boxelder bugs that developed this year, and thus we have very high numbers this fall," Alston said.

The bugs seem to be coming in droves.

"They've just been awful this fall," said Keith Wadman, a Portage resident. "They're in your food. They're in your house. They're everywhere. They just crawl everywhere."

Boxelder bugs gather in Nick Tree's window well in Portage, Box Elder County, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson, Deseret News) Boxelder bugs gather in Nick Tree's window well in Portage, Box Elder County, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson, Deseret News)

"It's very annoying," added resident Nick Tree. "My windowsill is all covered with them."

The population of Portage is just 245, according to the 2010 Census, so the bugs easily outnumber residents.

Residents say they're used to seeing the bugs this time of year — after all, they live in Box Elder County, which is actually named after the trees, not the creepy crawlies — but few can remember a fall that bugged them this much.

"Anytime the kids come out, we play a little game, see how many they got on them and then we kill them," Tree said with a laugh.

As temperatures fall, large numbers of adult bugs move from plants and congregate on heated buildings, said Erin Hodgson, an extension entomology specialist at USU. The bugs often are found in large numbers on the south sides of houses or buildings.

Hundreds of boxelder bugs are looking for warmth by going under Lisa Bryant's deck in Portage, Box Elder County, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson, Deseret News) Hundreds of boxelder bugs are looking for warmth by going under Lisa Bryant's deck in Portage, Box Elder County, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson, Deseret News)

Unfortunately, there is no magic repellent to keep boxelder bugs away, Alston said.

"At my house, I like to use an insecticidal soap product and just spray it up on the side of the house," she said. "That soap will actually break down the wax covering on their body and dry them out. Whatever you use to remove them from your house one day, there'll be many more to replace them the next day."

Other than being a nuisance, the bugs can stain carpet and other fabrics, so preventing them from getting inside the house is important. Hodgson recommends sealing openings or foundation cracks and windows, and vacuuming the bugs away.

The only real repellent will be the colder temperatures, and many of the residents of Portage are holding out for that.

Nick Tree talks about the boxelder bug infestation at his home in Portage, Box Elder County, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson, Deseret News) Nick Tree talks about the boxelder bug infestation at his home in Portage, Box Elder County, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson, Deseret News)

"The only redeeming quality they have is that they don't bite," Wadman said.

Email: manderson@desnews.com

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