Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Invasives: An Asian Longhorned Beetle Scare

I remember sifting through my work emails on a morning in June when my eyes popped to the subject, “Possible invasive Asian longhorned beetle spotted.”

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.

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Caitlin Stewart manages the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District. The District's mission is to manage and promote the wise use of Natural Resources in Hamilton County. Caitlin will be sharing the District's conservation-focused services, programs, and events. She’s been a full time resident of Hamilton County since 2008 and is an avid hiker, skier, paddler, and biker. She is obsessed with adventuring with her dog Artemis.

7 Responses

  1. Guest says:

    I had the same thing happen in Newcomb with an insect I thought was an Emerald Ash Borer. I had to borrow an ounce of gin to preserve it until I could make contact with DEC. They confirmed it was not an EAB.

    All this made me wonder about the vulnerability of the forest preserve where cutting isn’t allowed. A friend told me that tree removal is the best control for an outbreak, but removal can’t be don in forest preserve woods.

    Is this true?

  2. Caitlin says:

    Dear Guest,

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with an invasive insect look-alike.

    In regards to your inquiry, it is my understanding that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has jurisdiction over Forest Preserve lands. According to the NYS DEC website (, “The Adirondack Forest Preserve is defined as the 2.6 million acres of state land within the Adirondack Park. Afforded constitutional protections that prevent the removal of timber, lands within New York’s Forest Preserve are rich in both recreational opportunity and ecological significance.” Read more about NYS DEC’s “forest preserve invasive species management” at Management plans are in place for the invasive plants common reed grass and yellow flag iris on forest preserve lands. Perhaps NYS DEC employees can better answer this inquiry.

  3. Chad says:

    Yes!! The forests are sooo vulnerable to these pests!! It is very interesting to think about the implications of Forest Preserve Laws in relation to Invasive Pests!! The response plan for the EAB does not typically involve cutting down trees. The ALB, however, is another story. Eradication involves cutting down infested trees and this can be very aggressive although the treatments are very effective. I think they did this in Chicago and Toronto and it was very effective. Hopefully this horribly dangerous pest in not ever found in the Adirondacks.


  4. Susan says:

    Great Job Invasive Species Responders. Keep guarding our forests!

  5. Todd says:

    Thanks for taking the time to address this. A point of clarification…the outbreaks in most of the distinct states that you mention were not instances where the Asian Longhorned Beetle spread from one site to another…but rather were point introductions associated with solid wood packiing material that was not properly treated to mitigate insect infestations before leaving China. To their credit, when APHIS recognized this was a high risk pathway they immediately imposed regulations to stop new introductions….most of the introductions found to date have been associated with sites that received infested packing material prior to the regulations. In Ohio, there was one site near the primary infestation that was associated with the movement of infested firewood prior to the establishiment of the current quarantine…APHIS is working with states, Nature Conservancy and firewood industry as well as with the US Park Service and Forest Service in outreach campaigns to raise people’s awareness of the behaviors the engage in that may put our forests at risk. Google the Don’t Move Firewood or Hungry for more information.

  6. Guest says:

    Caitlin, it looks like DEC can treat Phragmitis with herbicide, but the man from DEC that I spoke with said that they could not remove trees from Forest Preserve land because of the state constitution. Are there any other controls for ALB or EAB? Would insecticides work?

  7. Caitlin says:

    @Chad, thank you for your comment. You are correct. In Chicago, infested trees were either removed and chipped or treated with the insecticide Imidacloprid. Ongoing surveys are conducted. Between 1998 and1999, 800+ trees were discovered to be infested with ALB. In 2004, only 18 trees were infested. Here is a great publication about the Chicago infestation: In Toronto, trees were cut and chipped. Surveying efforts resulted in the location of new infestations and trees were removed. For more:

    @Todd, thank you very much for your correction. The Don’t Move Firewood campaign is in full force in our area with road inspections for firewood and signage and firewood inspections at DEC campgrounds.

    @Guest, According to the USDA Forest Service website Evaluation of Systemic Insecticides to Control of Asian Longhorned Beetle, 2009 (, “Although, injection with imidacloprid does not provide complete control of ALB, systemic insecticides may prove useful as part of an integrated eradication or management program. The delivery of high and sustained insecticide concentrations will be needed to overcome the antifeedant effects and lengthy lethal time for both larvae and adults exposed to these insecticides.” Biocontrol is being researched for EAB including insect parasitoids and a possible fungus. Ash tree genetic resistance is also being researched. Cutting and chipping infested trees results in 100% EAB mortality. Emamectin benzoate and imidacloprid insecticides are used for EAB. Insecticide efficacy varies depending on aspects such as the health of uninfested ash trees and the severity of the established infestation. Mark Whitmore, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, provides an excellent review of EAB insecticides here: “Insecticide options for protecting ash trees from emerald ash borer” offers an excellent discussion about insecticides:

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