Five years after the last reported sighting, and in the midst of New York’s first ever “Invasive Species Awareness Week,” the Asian longhorned beetle has been spotted once again on Long Island.
A homeowner made the unfortunate discovery in her backyard in West Babylon; a subsequent sweep in the region uncovered infestations in several cemeteries around Wellwood Avenue, along the Southern State Parkway, and in areas around Republic Airport in East Farmingdale.
Now, thousands of trees are at risk of destruction. Federal and state officials have identified 500 that are currently infested with the insect, and estimate that up to 4,500 trees will have to be destroyed in order to create a buffer zone to contain the outbreak.
A Beetle With an Appetite
The Asian longhorned beetle is a destructive, invasive insect first discovered in 1996 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—most likely a stowaway in untreated wooden packing materials from China. The pest, which grows to an inch to an inch and a half long, is shiny and black, with white spots on its back and long, black-and-white striped antenna.
Females lay their eggs in the bark of hardwood trees, preferring maple, horse chestnut, elm, willow, birch, and poplar. When the larvae hatch, they chew deep into the tree where they mature, first into pupae and then beetles. The adults eat their way out, emerging from perfectly round, dime-sized holes. This life-cycle turns the inside of the tree into a soggy, chewed mush, and eventually kills it.
“This is a serious forest pest,” Joseph Gittleman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture told the Long Island Press. “It preys upon perfectly healthy hardwoods. It doesn’t target trees that are already stressed out or dying.”
Luckily, the adult beetles have a relatively small range — most tend to lay their eggs in the same tree from which they emerged. This, coupled with the larva’s winter-long incubation, make the pests somewhat easier to eradicate. The most effective means to control the beetle is to remove infested trees and destroy them in place by chipping or burning. To prevent further spread of the insect, quarantine zones are established to avoid transporting wood from the infested areas.
Fighting the Pest
Over the past eighteen years, the ALB has been found in all five boroughs of New York City, plus Long Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Ohio. To date, the beetle has killed roughly 80,000 trees in the U.S.—18,562 in New York alone.
In 2011, after significant quarantine and tree removal efforts, the town of Islip on Long Island declared itself free of ALB. Last year, Manhattan and Staten Island did the same. Officials were hopeful that the other boroughs and the rest of Long Island may follow, considering the beetle hadn’t been seen in five years. That made this year’s discovery a disappointing setback.
“My feeling is, they never went away. We just missed them,” Cornell University’s Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann told CBS New York. “It’s definitely disappointing and we just need strong efforts to eradicate this.”
The quarantine area on Long Island has been more than doubled to 51 square miles, meaning wood can’t leave the area. In addition, officials will continue with tree removal, surveys, and regular monitoring.
As the groan of chainsaws resonates across Long Island, many locals are lamenting the loss of their beloved trees. In addition to having aesthetic value (some homeowners will now have an unwanted view of the Southern State Parkway), trees remove carbon dioxide from the air, release oxygen, filter pollution, and provide shade that cuts air conditioning costs.
A study by the USDA Forest Service determined that if the Asian longhorned beetle became established across the country, it would probably kill 30 percent of all urban trees — at a cost of $669 billion.
Beyond the local impacts, officials fear that the ALB could also destroy the maple syrup and tourism industry upstate, were it to spread. New York is the second highest producer of maple syrup in the country, producing 546,000 gallons in 2014. One million autumn foliage tourists annually generate $1 billion in revenue in New England.
“Can you imagine driving upstate in the fall and not seeing the fall color because there are no maple trees?” Joseph Gittleman, NY ALB Project Manager asked CBS New York.
Play a Part
New Yorkers have a vital role to play in the control and eradication of this invasive pest. The Nature Conservancy suggests these two ways:
- Don’t Move Firewood. The Asian longhorned beetle and other invasive pests can be transported to new places when people move firewood. When you go camping, buy or collect firewood close to where you’ll burn it.
- Inspect Your Trees. Keep an eye on your backyard and street trees for signs of the Asian longhorned beetle, such as dime-sized holes in your trees or large shiny black beetles. If you think you may have an Asian longhorned beetle in your community, report it at Beetle Busters or email the NYS DEC.