Oct 24, 2008

World - This beetle's signature:bullet marks on trees

WORCESTER (Massachusetts): A wood-devouring beetle has gained a foothold in New England, U.S., and authorities plan to cut down large numbers of infested trees and grind them up to stop the pest from spreading to the region’s celebrated forests and ravaging the timber, tourism and maple-syrup industries.

The infestation of Asian long-horned beetles in the Worcester area marks the fourth time the pests have been found in trees in the U.S. and the closest they have ever come to the great New England woods that erupt in dazzling, tourist-pleasing colours in the fall.

“This insect scares us to death because if it ever got loose in the forests of New England, it would be just about impossible to contain and it’d change the landscape dramatically,” said Tom McCrum, coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Syrup Association.

Calling it a national emergency, federal authorities have committed themselves to spending millions of dollars to fight the invasion. They have sent in smokejumpers, tree-climbers and other experts to identify infested trees. The affected area now covers 160 square km around Worcester and four neighbouring towns, and at least 1,800 trees have been tagged for destruction.

The outbreak was detected this summer, after Donna Massie spotted beetles on a tree in her backyard in Worcester. She caught one, searched online to identify it, and then called agriculture authorities. Now her tree is riddled with thimble-size holes. “It looks like someone opened fire with a machine gun,” said Ms. Massie of the signature exit holes gnawed away by the bullet-shaped black beetle with white freckles, long antennae and a voracious appetite for hardwood.

The beetles first appeared in the U.S. in 1996 in Brooklyn, probably arriving in the wood of a shipping crate from China, and have since shown up in New York’s Central Park and parts of New Jersey and Illinois. Authorities believe that the Massachusetts infestation is unrelated but that the beetles probably arrived the same way.

Eradication efforts in New York, New Jersey and Illinois have cost $268 million over the past 11 years. — AP

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