"it" is the Asian longhorned beetle, a stowaway pest that
jumped ship into the United States in 1996 from Chinese shipping
The pest has no natural predators in the United
States. And experts fear that if the beetle gains a firm enough
toehold in the United States, it could destroy millions of acres of
American hardwoods, causing more damage than Dutch elm disease,
chestnut blight and gypsy moths combined.
"The Asian beetle is different than our native
longhorned beetles and other borers, because our species attack only
declining trees," says Dr. Wayne Brewer, an Alabama Cooperative
Extension System entomologist and Auburn University professor of
entomology. "The Asian beetle, on the other hand, attacks
perfectly healthy trees."
Once the beetles are established within a hardwood
forest, the only alternative is to clear cut all of the infected
trees and neighboring trees that are likely to be infested. The
remedy typically involves complete deforestation.
Maple trees are of particular concern, Brewer says,
although the pest also feeds on other hardwood species, including
birch, elm, poplar, willow, ash and black locust.
"Any urban or suburban setting where maples and
these other species are the dominant or predominant tree would be
very vulnerable," he says. "Some of these neighborhoods
would probably be devastated simply because the trees would either
be killed or removed."
Although these hardwood species are not as prevalent
in Alabama forests as in other states, the introduction of the
beetles into the state would be serious nevertheless, Brewer says.
"It probably would not be as serious here as in
the East and Northeast, but it still would be a major problem,
because the insects, by taking out maples and other hardwood trees,
would certainly change the composition of the forest and alter the
Residential areas and other suburban and urban
landscapes in which maples are widely planted also would be
especially susceptible to beetle damage.
First discovered in 1996 in Brooklyn, NY, the
beetles are relative newcomers to the United States. By 1998 – and
despite USDA’s nationwide alert about the beetles -- the pests
were discovered in the Ravenswood area of Chicago.
The beetles can be moved in firewood, live trees or
fallen timber. They also can spread rapidly, providing there are
enough host trees within the vicinity.
"These beetles fly fairly well," Brewer
says. "It flies to find hosts and mates and would easily emerge
from one infested tree and fly to a new host, covering distances of
a half mile in some cases."
Female beetles chew depressions into the bark of
trees and then begin laying eggs into them. A single female can lay
between 35 and 90 eggs. Between 10 and 15 days later, the larvae
emerge and begin burrowing under the tree bark and other hardwood
trees. They survive throughout fall and winter feeding on the trees’
living tissue. With the arrival of spring, the fully grown beetles
emerge through exit holes and begin feeding on the trees’
exteriors for about two to three days until they begin mating.
While no Asian longhorned beetle infestations have
yet been detected in Alabama, Brewer and other experts say it pays
to be vigilant.
"There are a number of longhorned beetle
species in Alabama, but it’s very easy to tell these native
beetles apart from the Asian beetles," Brewer says. "The
Asian beetles are a very attractive species, mostly black, with
"We have some related species that look a
little like Asian beetles, but they are white with black
Modern transportation has rapidly increased the
spread of the Asian longhorned beetle and other species.
"Experts have learned the beetles can travel
long distances in shipping containers and wood products, making it
possible for them to get into any port where products are shipped in
from foreign countries," Brewer says.
(Source: Dr. Wayne Brewer, Alabama Cooperative
Extension System entomologist.)