Asian Longhorn beetle
dwheeler at teleport.com
dwheeler at teleport.com
Wed Dec 16 09:39:01 EST 1998
The article is posted as a courtesy.
From The Oregonian, Dec. 9, 1998 pA21
Asian Longhorn Beetle: A bugs life, a trees death
Insect experts sound a warning that theres a ruinous creature making its way
>From China to the U.S.
By PATRICK ONEILL of The Oregonian staff
Oregon bug experts are looking hard for a creature they hope they
never find. The Asian longhorn beetle, a hungry little hitchhiker with an
appetite for a variety of hardwood trees, has landed on U.S. shores, striking
fear in the hearts of tree-lovers everywhere. The beetle has
established destructive colonies in New York and Chicago, where experts think
it arrived from China in shipping pallets made of wood from infested trees.
It hasnt been seen in Oregon yet, but beetle-watchers say that doesnt
mean much. The insect spends most of its life cycle burrowed deep into trees
where its almonst impossible to find. But Portland is a potential home
for the beetle because the port city receives thousands of sealed shipping
containers from China each year, many of them loaded with pallets made from
untreated wood. And once the beetles have burrowed into a tree, there
is no bug spray that will drive them away. The only way to get rid of them is
to cut down the trees and burn them. These beetles are tree-killers,
said Kathleen Johnson, plant pest program supervisor for the Oregon
Department of Agriculture. The beetles only redeeming quality is that
it doesnt like the taste of conifers. Thousands of species of longhorn
wood-boring beetles live in the United States, most causing little harm to
living trees. They consume dead wood, which makes them important recyclers of
plant matter. But the Asian longhorn beetle is different. It thrives
on living wood from healthy trees. The larvae bore a tunnel the diameter of a
large pencil into a tree, eventually making the wood look like Swiss cheese.
After an infestation was found in Chicago this summer, the federal
government became alarmed at the beetles potential for destruction.
Beginning Dec. 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will require wooden
pallets from China to fumigated, heat-treated or doused with beetle-stopping
preservatives before theyre loaded on to ships bound for the United States.
Beetle experts are hoping the action wasnt too late. They say theres no
way to rule out the possibility that Asian longhorn beetles might already
have a thriving colony somewhere in Oregon. After all, entomologists estimate
that Chicagos biggest infestation began five to seven years ago and
proceeded undetected in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
Named for night sky
The beetle, whose scientific name is Anoplophora glabripennis, is a
dramatic black, speckled with white. The Chinese call it the starry sky
beetle because of its resemblance to the night sky. The female lays her eggs
in the bark of hardwood trees, nibbling small indentations in the bark and
laying up to 80 eggs, one at a time, in separate holes. About a week later,
the eggs hatch and the larvae chew through the bark. As the larvae grow
bigger and stronger, they begin to tunnel their way into the wood intself.
Just a few generations of beetles can destroy a tree. Its incredible,
said Johnson, who visited the Chicago infestation. I saw dead trees and
trees where limbs had died. Limbs that had been cut from trees were riddled
through with holes. Sap was flowing from small holes where beetles had laid
their eggs. Brian McNerny, Portland city forester, said he is trying
to recruit peole in all of the citys 96 neighborhoods to help hunt for the
beetle. In September, the Oregon Department of Agriculture sent a wanted
poster to tree trimmers and nurserymen warning them about the beetle.
Oregon agriculture officials who want to keep the beetle out of the state
have only to look to Chicago for inspiration. Terry Levin, spokesman
for the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, said workers will begin
cutting down the 400 infested trees in January, weather permitting.
Although the infestation was discovered in July, city officials decided to
wait to take down the trees. By January all of the adult beetles will have
died Levin said, so theres no chance that cutting down the trees would
startle the insects into flight that would spread the infestation. The threat
of spreading the bugs is so great that the city has set up a quarantine zone
around the infested area, banning transportation fo wood from the area.
Curing the infestation is guaranteed to traumatize the neighborhood, Levin
Its an old neighborhood, he said. There are peole who planted trees 40
or 50 years ago to commemorate a special event -- the birth of a child.
Ironically, many of the doomed trees were planed to replace elm trees that
perished of Dutch elm disease in the 1950s.
Ken Kruse is on the front lines in Illinois beetle battle. Kruse, state
plant health director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture office in Des
Plaines, Ill., said the three infestations in the Chicago area were almost
certainly caused by separately imported beetles. All three infestations are
close to businesses that import goods from China.
Its widespread in China, he said. As the trees die they cut them into
wood and use them for packing material.
And with the wood come the beetle larvae.
In 1998, the United States imported $80 billion worth of goods rom China,
packed in 1.15 million shipping containers. A quarter to the third of the
containers have wood packing, he said. And about two-thirds of wood packing is
The beetle made its infestation debut in New York. In October, 1996 it was
found in maple and horsechestnut trees in brooklyn.
In July it was found in Chicago.
Beetles killed in Canada
So far, the known infestations are in the East. But that gives little
comfort to Jon Bell regional program officer for the Canadian Food Inspection
Agency in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1992, hundreds of Asian longhorn
beetles emerged from wood packing that had been used to transport pipe
flanges from China to Vancouver. Fortunately, Bell said, workers identified
the insects and fumigated the warehouse. Bell said Vancouver seems to
have dodged that bullet. So far theres been no sign of an infestation.
But that probably has more to do with the difficulty beetles face in getting
a toehold in a new country than in traveling there in the first place.
Its really hard to start an infestation, Bell said. Conditions have to be
just right. Enough beetles must arrive in summer so that they can begin
breeding. They must have access to the right kind of trees. Theres
more than a theoretical possibility that the beetle could find its way to
Portland. During the past 12 months, 6,500 sealed shipping containers
>From China have passed through the Port of Portland. Aaron Ellis, Port
spokesman, said that although the containers come in all sizes, the shipments
>From China are equivalent to 11,000 20-foot-long containers. Untreated
wood is used not only for pallets but also as packing material for slabs of
Chinese steel. The wood is used to separate the huge pieces so that chains
can be wrapped around them. In the past this wood has been tossed away,
Ellis said. But now its carefully inspected. So far, he said, the Asian
longhorn beetle hasnt ben found. But it may just be a matter of time.
Johnson, of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, recalls a recent scare.
About a month ago, her office received a call from a warehouse employee in
Beaverton. He had found a strange-looking beetle crawling around in a pallet-
load of goods that had been sealed with plastic. He was very concerned
about it so he gave us a call, Johnson said. One of the first things I
asked him to do was put it in the freezer, she said. He told me he had it
in a plastic bag but they can chew right through those. State
entomologists discovered that the creature was a Japanese pine sawyer instead
of the more-damaging longhorn beetle. But the lessons remains. With the
amount of cargo shipped from China, beetles could well have set up a colony
in Oregon without being discovered.
Traps dont work yet
Finding the Asian longhorn is like looking for a beetle in a
haystack. There are lots of trees in Oregon. Granted, the beetle is a farily
large insect and leaves distinctive round exit holes in trees. But
insect-hunters are at a disadvantage with the longhorned beetle. Other kinds
of damaging insects -- the gypsy moth, for example -- can be attracted to
traps baited with pheremone, a sex attractant. But such traps havent been
developed for the Asian longhorn beetle. One wary beetle-watcher is
Jim Bersbach, chairman of the board of directors of Friends of Trees,
Gersbach is deeply worried about the prospect of an infestation in Oregon.
Friends of Trees is a Portland-based non-profit organization that brings out
thousands of volunteers every year to plant trees in the metropolitan area.
Gersbach traveled to Chicago in October to study the beetle damage in
one neighborhood. He hopes to help sound the alarm over what he thinks could
be a disaster for the tree-rich Portland area. The loss of trees brings
on a litany of problems. You face the aesthetic shock of suddenly
having a shady tree-lined street become a street of stumps, he said. You
lose wildlife habitat, places for birds to nest and roost and find shelter.
Squirrels are dependent on oak nuts and acorns. You also lose sound barriers.
Neighborhoods that have lost lots of trees are going to be noisier.
While Oregon watches for the beetle, researchers look for ways to combat the
invader. Possibilities include birds, parasitic wasps and robber fly larvae.
But the first step is to find out if the beetle is here. And that,
experts say, will require a sharp-eyed community.
NOTE BY POSTER: The Asian longhorned beetle is nothing compared to the
Siberian Gypsy moth, which eats not just hardwoods, but conifers as well.
Already these pests have been found in wood imported from Siberia and Russia
by major timber companies, who, I think, really should know better. Insects
have been caught in Seattle, Portland, and Longview to date. If they escape
and naturalize, they could cause $17 billion damage annually, as they eat
Douglas fir, Western hemlock, Sitka spruce, Ponderosa pine, alder, maple,
oak, and even common garden vegetables.
Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
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