Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Bugs on the brain

Bugs that eat Hemlock woolly adelgidI’ve had bugs on the brain the last couple of weeks.

That’s because the New York State Hemlock Initiative invited me out to the Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville to see the release of a predator fly that eats the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid — a forest pest that has afflicted the Lake George area of the Adirondacks. I went. About a week later, the Adirondack Park Invasive Plan Program held its annual partner meeting and guess what was a major highlight? Hemlock woolly adelgid. Check out adirondackexplorer.org for our coverage.

Of course, it was snowing when I went out to see these predator bugs released, so we missed the excitement of unscrewing a jar lid and sending them off. I confess that upon seeing these HWA predators in a jar, I was a bit underwhelmed by their size. They look more like fruit flies, hardly what one thinks when you hear the word “predator.” In my imagination, I whipped them up to look more like the size of house flies. I thought they’d be swarming in jars, thick and dense, so when they were let out, “release the flies!” would be a good thing to yell.

But this whole process of using biological controls on an invasive insect is teeny tiny. After thinking about that some more, the release takes on a new kind of fascinating quality. It’s amazing how such small things (HWA is the size of a pepper flake) can cause such widespread damage. And what faith we put in such small creatures like silver flies to help us.

While it’s not in the Adirondack Park, the Huyck Preserve was a beautiful place to visit, with a featured waterfall. There are several gorgeous stands of hemlock trees. Unfortunately, when you look up at the canopy, you can see the tell-tale waxy wool clumps of an HWA infestation. There are 12 miles of hiking trails with access to over 2,000 acres of forestlands. I got a glimpse of some of it on my assignment, though there is much more I’d like to go back and explore. The waterfall of more than 120 feet was impressive. I’d recommend a visit if you’re driving through the Capital Region.

Editor’s note: This first ran in Gwen’s weekly “Adirondack Report” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

Photo: Silver flies, predators of hemlock woolly adelgid, wait to be released at the Huyck Preserve. Photo by Gwendolyn Craig

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Gwen is the environmental policy reporter for Adirondack Explorer.

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