2010-06-17 / News

Alien invader presents potential danger to Jamestown

June 22 meeting to focus on beetle

America’s most beautiful and popular trees are under attack by an alien invader – the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

This shiny black beetle – with white spots and exceptionally long antennae – came to this country from China hidden in wooden packing material. It bores holes into trees where it deposits its eggs. Heavy infestations can kill otherwise healthy adult trees.

What makes the Asian Longhorned Beetle such a serious threat is they kill a wide range of popular trees. They mainly attack maples, but they have also been found on horsechestnut, birch, poplar, willow, elm, ash, London plane tree, locust, mimosa and hackberry.

There are no known chemical or biological defenses, and the Asian Longhorned Beetle has few natural predators.

Outbreaks were discovered in the 1990s in urban areas in New York and Illinois. Authorities reacted quickly to stop the beetle from spreading. In August of 2008, Asian Longhorned Beetles were discovered in the city of Worcester, Mass.

The latest discovery is the most serious to date, since Worcester has thousands of hardwood trees and sits at the edge of the great Northern forest that stretches for millions of acres to Canada and the Great Lakes.

If the Asian Longhorn Beetle spreads northward, scientists predict it could be the most serious infestation ever known and would create more devastation in the way of damage than Dutch elm disease, gypsy moths and chestnut blight combined.

Currently, the only way to combat the Asian Longhorned Beetle is to destroy infested trees. In central Massachusetts, the state and federal governments are removing and burning all infested trees on public and private land. They then selectively remove adjacent trees that have a high risk of being infested.

More than 26,000 trees have been cut and the area of quarantine around the city now includes more than 70 square miles. The federal government has already spent close to $24 million on eradication efforts, just in Worcester.

Since the beetle larvae can live in dead wood, authorities have prohibited removing firewood and other dead wood from the infected area.

This massive program is ongoing. It will take years of intensive surveys and removal of infested trees before the regulated area can be declared Asian Longhorned Beetle-free.

“So far, the beetle has not been found in Rhode Island,” according to Steve Saracino, the Jamestown Tree Warden. “But since over 40 percent of Jamestown trees are maple, it would be devastating if the beetle were to reach the island.”

Early detection and rapid treatment are critical to successful eradication of the beetle. In every outbreak, it wasn’t a professional in the tree business who discovered this pest, but an observant homeowner.

From late May through October, adult beetles burrow out of the tree and move to another location. Now is the time to look for Asian Longhorned Beetles.

To help people learn more about this and other alien pests, the Jamestown Tree Preservation and Protection Committee will sponsor a free educational program at the Jamestown Philomenian Library at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 22. Offi- cials from the state will be on hand to answer questions.

According to Saracino, “The beetle went undetected for a decade in Worcester. If it had been found in the first year or two, eradication would have been fairly quick and easy. The faster we recognize the signs and realize we have the beetle, the better.”

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