The email was sent from Kavya Pradhan, the summer intern at the Irondequoit Inn in Piseco, NY who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier that week. As a college student, Kavya is interested in invasive species, and scheduled a meeting with Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District staff to discuss partnership opportunities. I assembled a packet of invasive species educational materials for her.
Kavya spotted a large beetle on a picnic table at the Inn that, according to the literature she recently received, looked very much like the Asian longhorned beetle. She contacted me about her sighting and I zipped right over to take a look at the suspect.
I freaked out. To me, it did not appear to be the native look-alike whitespotted sawyer beetle that people sometimes mistake for the invader. This specimen had a few tell tale signs of the Asian longhorned beetle including blue tinged legs and black and white stripped antennae.
I knew the dangers of an Asian longhorned beetle infestation, and this knowledge was the cause of my freak out attack. This insect attacks a plethora of hardwood trees including maple, ash, birch, elm, willow, and poplar, threatening the maple syrup, baseball bat, lumber, and tourism industries. Neighborhood trees are also at risk. Images of streets void of hardwoods that were cut down and chipped to stop the spread of the invader flashed in my mind.
I placed the beetle in a glass jar, returned to the office, and immediately called my friend Tom Colarusso of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). I explained to him that the location of the Irondequoit Inn was the perfect locale for an Asian longhorned beetle infestation as 3 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation campgrounds were located on the same road. Folk carrying firewood may transport invasive insects. Tom recommended that I email him photos for an initial identification. He was out in the field but would be able to check his inbox later that afternoon.
The wait for Tom’s response was truly agonizing for me as I prepared for the worst case scenario. I didn’t want it here! I was on edge for hours, going through the possible next steps if the identification turned out to be positive. The list included conducting a tree inventory, establishing a quarantine area, distributing outreach materials, scheduling presentations and community meetings, locating wood chippers to demolish infested trees, grinding tree stumps to the ground, and considering the cost for application of the imidacloprid insecticide.
At 3 pm Tom called the office. I grabbed the phone from the receiver and listened intently. “Are you ready for this?” Tom inquired. I held breath in my lungs. “It is not Asian longhorned beetle. I am almost 100% certain.” My smile of relief was gargantuan.
I packaged the beetle up and overnight mailed it to Tom for a true specimen identification that was more reliable than photos. Tom believed the beetle to be the native Monochamus scutellatus, or the whitespotted sawyer, with this specimen showing similar characteristics of the Asian longhorned beetle.
Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) is native to Korea and China, and was first confirmed in the United States in 1996 in Brooklyn, NY. Introduction probably occurred via wood packing pallets. In the United States, the beetle has since spread to New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Ohio.
Adult beetles are approximately 1 to 1.5 inches in length with glossy black bodies spotted with white dots. Long antennae display alternating white and black bands. Adults emerge in late spring and are killed by freezing temperatures. Larvae are huge (2 inches in length) and bear a strong resemblance to the Michelin Tire Man.
Female adults chomp out dime-sized oviposition sites in tree bark and lay 35 – 90 eggs. In about 15 days, eggs hatch into larvae that eat tree tissues responsible for growth and the transport of food and water. Larva morph through 5 to 6 instar stages during the winter months. When spring arrives, larvae pupate deep inside the tree, and adults emerge in the summer by chewing round exit holes in the bark. It is important to note that lifecycle aspects may differ based on the regional climate.
Adults consume twig bark, but it is the boring larvae that weaken the tree by girdling. Weakened trees are susceptible to other insect infestations, disease, and high wind events. If the infestation is large, tree mortality may eventually occur in a number of years.
Signs and symptoms of this invader can clue people in to possible Asian longhorned beetle infestations. Woodpecker damage is a great indicator as birds eat all types of insect larvae, including invasives. Round exit holes are deep enough to hold a pencil. Frass, or digested saw-dust like material excreted from beetles, collects on the ground or branches. Sap may pour out of the tree at wound sites. Defoliation and crown dieback may occur.
“This was a really good exercise in early detection and rapid response, but let’s hope we don’t have to do it for real ever!!” declared Colarusso, and I could not concur more.
This was an amazing series of events. I gave Kavya a folder brimming with invasive species materials and bam, she spotted a beetle that looked a lot like the invasive Asian longhorned beetle. The culprit made its way from Kavya to the District to APHIS in less than 24 hours. Education and partnerships made this process of early detection / rapid response incredibly efficient. It was good practice!
That day, the potential environmental and economic repercussions from an invasive insect infestation became quite tangible to me. I realized that we have a fantastic support system from educated landowners and visitors to partner organizations who will notify us if invasive species are spotted on the landscape, provide accurate identifications, and aid with prompt follow-up responses. I went home and enjoyed a glass of wine after the Asian longhorned beetle scare.