Asian Longhorned Beetle: A Threat to Our Forests

Rhonda Santos

For most camp professionals, imagining a camp without trees would be hard to fathom. Especially since for the past century, you and other American Camp Association® (ACA) camp professionals have worked to preserve the camp experience for both children and adults. Unfortunately, there is an insect that threatens the camp experience for all of us.

You may already be familiar with the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), an invasive insect that feeds on certain species of hardwood trees, eventually killing them. The pest most likely arrived in the United States unknowingly inside wood packing material from Asia. Since its discovery here in 1996, the beetle has caused tens of thousands of trees to be destroyed in Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Illinois.

The beetle threatens our nation’s camps and recreational areas, our forests, and suburban and urban trees. If it becomes established in the United States, the invasive insect has the potential to cause more damage than Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, and the gypsy moth combined — destroying millions of acres of our hardwoods, including national forests and parks and even our own backyard trees. The recreation, timber, nursery, and maple syrup industries alone could suffer severe losses, not to mention the environmental and ecological impacts.

It is my love of the outdoors and of trees that keeps me passionate about my work with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). I believe in the mission to save trees from this insect. Combined with your commitment to provide discovery, education, and service, I’m hoping we can stop this insect. After all, an ALB infestation is a sad tale for trees, since the trees are essentially being eaten alive.

Here’s how this insect kills a tree from the inside out: In her lifetime, the adult female chews up to ninety egg sites directly on the bark of a tree, and that’s where she will lay her eggs. After the eggs hatch in roughly two weeks, the worm-like larvae tunnel into the growing layers of the tree. After several weeks, the larvae tunnel into the woody tissue of the tree, where they continue to feed and develop over the winter. This feeding and burrowing causes the tree to weaken and eventually die. In the spring, beetle larvae develop into adult insects. In the early summer and warmer months, the adult beetles chew their way out, leaving dime-sized, perfectly round exit holes, starting their life cycle all over again to then continue their devastating effects. Now here’s the most important part. We need your help. You are our first line of defense. Staff members and campers alike: We need your eyes to be on the lookout for signs of damage and the insect itself. And of course, please be aware of the risks of transporting forest pests when moving firewood. We need your help. You are our first line of defense. Staff members and campers alike: We need your eyes to be on the lookout for signs of damage and the insect itself.

Adult Beetles

Adult beetles are most active during the summer and early fall. They can be seen on trees, branches, walls, outdoor furniture, cars, sidewalks, and in pool filters. While the pest may appear threatening, it is harmless to humans and pets. With these unique characteristics, it’s easy to identify:

  • 1 to 1 ½ inches in length
  • Long antennae banded in black and white (longer than the insect’s body)
  • Shiny, jet black body with random white spots
  • Six legs
  • Legs may appear bluish in color

Signs of Infestation

In addition to looking for the beetle, you can search for signs of infestation, including:

  • Shallow divots in the bark where the eggs are laid
  • Dime-sized (1/4 inch or larger), perfectly round exit holes in the tree
  • Sawdust-like materials, called frass, on the ground and the branches
  • Sap seeping from wounds in the tree

Protecting Our Nation’s Natural Resources

Unfortunately, a successful eradication involves very difficult realities. The toughest of these includes the removal of the infested trees, and potentially, other exposed trees. This is not only a complicated issue, but an emotional one as well. When the goal is to protect our nation’s natural resources from threats, the concept of removing trees is a difficult one. But the threat from this invasive insect is far too severe to do nothing.

The thirteen genera of trees the insect is known to infest make up a sizeable portion of the trees in our nation.

  • Ash
  • Birch
  • Elm
  • Goldenrain Tree
  • Hackberry
  • Horsechestnut
  • Katsura
  • London Planetree
  • Maple
  • Mimosa
  • Mountain Ash
  • Poplar
  • Willow

We’re in this fight together. If you see something, say something. Help stop the Asian longhorned beetle’s destruction by raising awareness about the pest and encouraging campers to report any signs or symptoms of an infestation immediately.
 

Information

There is a wealth of information about the beetle that can be found online at www.BeetleBusters.info. There is even curriculum available to make searching for and learning about the invasive insect a fascinating experience for young people. Please make raising awareness of this pest part of your camp program. You can also visit www.BeetleBusters.info to report a sighting or for more information, or call our toll free hotline at 866.702.9938. If you would like more information, please feel free to e-mail me at Rhonda.J.Santos@aphis.usda.gov.

 

Additional Resources

 

Rhonda Santos works for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service as a public information officer for the agency’s Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication Program.

Originally published in the 2012 July/August Camping Magazine.
 

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