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The Wonder of Boxelder Bugs

The Wonder of Boxelder Bugs


A careful examination of objects by both telescopes and microscopes reveals a major contrast between human-constructed objects and those designed by the Creator.  Human made objects, such as a watch, reveal more imperfections as the magnification by which they are viewed is increased.  An old-fashioned gear watch is an object of beauty when viewed by the naked eye.  Under the microscope, though, the flaws in the machining process become more apparent until, under high power, a watch looks not only imperfect, but crude.

In contrast, increasing magnification of the natural world reveals new detail and perfection.  This principle is illustrated by an evaluation of the lowly boxelder bugs, the so-called scentless plant bugs.  The higher the magnification they are examined under, the greater the evidence of design and perfection.  Details of the common boxelder bug, sometimes called boxelder beetle, and all insects show the greater the image is magnified presents an ever-increasing level of detail and design to the viewer.

Life Cycle of Boxelder Bugs
Because boxelder bugs reproduce primarily on pistillae (female) boxelder trees, they are usually not found unless a boxelder tree, also known in Canada as Manitoba maple, is nearby. The females lay eggs in late April to early May inside of tree bark crevices, grasses, or on the ground near stones for protection. The female plants bear seeds, thus making them a preferable nutritional choice to their male non seed-bearing counterparts. The eggs hatch after about 15 days and bright red nymphs appear.  Boxelder bugs live by sucking sap from leaves and consuming small twigs or developing seeds (Holm, 1985, p. 22). This usually causes little or no harm to the trees. They do not smell, do not bite, make no noise, do not eat human food and live in out of the way places (Holm, 1985, p. 8).

Boxelder bugs are usually first noticed in the fall when they migrate from their homes in boxelder trees to heated buildings for protection from the cold.  In the autumn, they may begin to cluster on the side of a house, slowly crawling into cracks and crevices, eventually entering the home where they can secretly and safely survive winter (Holm, 1985, p. 8). Naturally many people are upset when these bugs appear en masse in their homes. When spring comes, boxelder bugs emerge to reproduce. In the prairies there is only one generation per year. The bugs mate in late summer or early fall and soon seek warmer habitation and the cycle begins again. In many warmer regions the overwintering generation mates in the spring and another in the fall.

Eastern Boxelder Bug
From Wiki Commons


Boxelder Bug Body Design

Adult boxelder bugs are flat-backed, narrow elongated creatures about half-an-inch long and close to a third-of-an-inch wide.  They are typically dark brownish-black with three red stripes running lengthwise along the area behind the head, the pronotum.  The pinstripes look like those used to decorate automobiles a few years back, and seem to be added for the same reason as auto pin stripes, purely decoration. The head (proboscis) is a beautiful reddish orange and has four thin long segmented antennae.  The nymphs or immature bugs are physically similar to the adults except that they have a smaller, more rounded wingless body and are bright red in color. They have excellent smell, good eyesight, and good hearing, especially for their mating call (Holm, 1985, p. 23).

Their Well-Designed Eyes and Claws
The boxelder bug has a compound design eye type that contains hundreds of facets which enables the insect to be aware of much of the world around it. This gives the creature over a 300˚ angle of vision.  As it moves in its travels, each eye picks up information about objects on each side, as well as what is directly in front, on top, and below it.

The miniature claw structures that become visible under microscopic inspection are designed for a vast array of tasks.  They can be used to effectively grasp onto things to allow the insect to climb trees and feed itself.  They can also be used to push itself or other objects and to obtain information about the environment.

The creature is specifically designed to help it respond to environmental changes. While many insects are very hairy, allowing them to maneuver easily due to their hairs acting as feelers, the boxelder sensory hairs are exceptionally interesting.  Each sensory hair has its own set-in pocket enclosed by a frame that protects the animal’s shell, yet allows the hair to move to obtain information about its environment.

While the hair structures are flexible to obtain information, they are also thicker at the base to provide necessary strength. Hairs on the insects’ sides are also arranged to maximize its tactile stimulation input. This allows them to quickly determine whether an object is a leaf, rock or a blade of grass. A single hair sticks out farther than others to allow the animal to sense its surrounding environment and respond in some way, depending on the response required.

The Scanning Electron Microscope
But how do we see all these intricate details?  Pictures taken by a scanning electron microscope (SEM) help to reveal the full beauty of the insect. SEM uses an electron beam that projects a top-to-bottom raster scan pattern across the image scanned.  The electrons bounce off the image and are picked up by a camera-like device.  The electrons shot at the image bounce off at an angle that changes according to the shape of the image. The image produced by the reflections is then displayed on a computer screen. The electron beam changes are processed by a computer to reproduce the image scanned. The resultant image produced is always black and white but is often colorized by a computer.

The object scanned is often plated with metal as part of the preparation process so that the excess electrons will be effectively drained away when scanned.  Furthermore, metal plating helps the electrons rastering across the image to ricochet more accurately.  This produces not only a better image, but the object viewed is less likely to be burned by the electron beam.  An enormous amount of detail can be obtained because the metal plating is incredibly thin and accurately reflects most of the even very small contours of the object being scanned.

Boxelder Bug Evolution
I could not find a single claim about boxelder evolution. This was not unexpected. I have published much on insect evolution and found little evidence to no evidence for the evolution of any insect (Bergman, 2017). As far as we can tell, the first boxelder bug was very similar to, if not identical to, a modern boxelder bug.

The Important Role of Insects
Hours of enjoyable time can be invested observing insects hard at work in their miniature world. Bible passages mention many admirable qualities of specific insects.  Careful observation of the ant, for example, soon gives meaning to the scriptural exhortation: “Take a lesson from the ants, lazy ones; observe their industrious ways and become wise” (Proverbs 6:6). Is it possible God is commanding people to observe the fact that their work ethic includes caring for their fellow workers? It appears His design of the ant’s character, and our encouragement to observe them, is more complex and wonderous the deeper we look.

An obvious quality of ants is their persistence and determination, often carrying or tenaciously dragging objects weighing over twice their own weight for long distances.  As they trudge along, they may fall or roll down some precipice but nonetheless persist in their travels.  Ants keep their nests clean, instinctively prepare for their future, and even show concern for their fellow workers—at times assisting injured or exhausted ants back to their nest.

Most insects are harmless and some, including ladybugs and also spiders, are generally beneficial because both consume many harmful insects.  Fully 85 percent of flowering plants are either completely or partly dependent on insect pollination.  Insects also play a critical role in building the soil and, as scavengers, reducing the level of debris and waste on the ground.  Insects occupy an important place in relation to the rest of creation and determine the character of our world to a far greater extent than most people realize (Hill,1997).  If they were suddenly to disappear, the world would be changed so extensively that it eventually would not be able to support life as we know it (Niaz, 2018).

Insects, unfortunately, cause an instinctive repulsion in many persons.  This can easily be overcome simply by learning more about them and their world.  Insects are enormously important for humans (Fabre,1998).  Many kinds of chemicals, dyes and shellacs are produced from insects.  They also produce food (such as honey), medicine, clothing (such as silk), pollinate flowers and are even part of our cultures’ folklore.  Butterflies, ladybugs, crickets, and bees are a few examples of insects that bring much beauty into our lives.  Each one has its own story to tell and its own secrets.  After studying the boxelder bug, I am even more confident that the study of insects is a fascinating journey that reveals some of the almost-infinitely intricate handiwork of our Creator.


Bergman, Jerry. 2017. Fossil Forensics: Separating Fact from Fantasy in Paleontology. Tulsa, OK: Bartlett Publishing.

Fabre, Jean Henry. 1998. Fabre’s Book of Insects. Mineola, New York Dover Publications.

Hill, Dennis. 1997. The Economic Importance of Insects. New York: Springer

Holm, Bill. 1985. Boxelder Bugs. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Niaz, Umar. 2018. Role of Insects in Ecosystem New York: Scholars’ Press.




Jerry Bergman, Ph. D.
April 2020

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