Hard Work Pays Off: Invasive Beetle Eradicated


Good news from New Jersey!  The invasive long-horned beetle, which had destroyed many trees, has been completely eradicated from the state.   The victory was hard-won, taking more than a decade of painstaking work on the part of local, state, and federal officials, with the cooperation of citizens living in and near the infested area.

     The Asian long-horned beetle is a black beetle dotted with white.  Its most distinguishing features are its black and white striped antennae, which are longer than its body.  The adult beetles mate in early summer, and the female lays her eggs in tiny indentations she makes in the bark of certain trees.  When the larvae hatch, they burrow their way into the tree’s heartwood, where they feed on the tree’s wood all winter.  A cross-section of an infested tree looks like Swiss cheese, explains Rhonda Santos, a public information officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

     Native to China, this invasive beetle was first spotted in the U.S. in Brooklyn, New York, in 1996.  The beetles, it is believed, made their way into the country in wood packing materials.  In 1998, the U.S. government responded by banning from U.S. ports wooden pallets that had not been heat-treated or treated with methyl bromide to kill the beetle larvae.  Some of the nation’s most common hardwoods–all maple species, birches, and poplars–are vulnerable to the invaders.  

     It did not take long for the beetles to start causing problems in five states–New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio.  New Jersey’s first infestation showed up Jersey City in 2002, when more than 100 trees were infested.  There was a more serious outbreak two years later in a nearby community.   

     A variety of approaches were required to eradicate the beetle from the entire state of New Jersey:  tree removal; injections of insecticides; public education; and surveillance.  For the two years following the 2004 infestation, New Jersey agricultural officials defined a 25 square mile zone across four communities, including residential and industrial neighborhoods, and inspected more than 129,000 trees.  Officials urged citizens in the area not to transport firewood, the main way the beetles were spreading in the state.

     Workers removed not only infested trees, but also a wide swath of nearby trees that were at high risk.  For instance, reports Lisa Foderaro in The New York Times, in the town of Linden, only 11 trees were infested, but more than 14,000 trees, including saplings, were cut down because their proximity to infested trees put them at great risk.  Those trees were then chipped and burned.  The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection offered many home owners to replace their infested trees with non-vulnerable tree species.  About one-third of the removed trees were replaced with much less vulnerable oaks and lindens.

     The last living long-horned beetle was seen in New Jersey in 2006.  Yet victory could not yet be declared.  USDA officials required New Jersey localities to go through three ‘confirmation cycles,’ in which no long-horned beetles were found.  That process took several years. By March 2013, it was clear that there were no Asian long-horned beetles alive in New Jersey.  ”We can declare New Jersey is free of this invasive pest,” declared New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher.  He added that the eradication program had been “a herculean effort.”

     With the March 2013 declaration, New Jersey joined Illinois as the two states that have completely eradicated the Asian long-horned beetle.  Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York are still battling it.  New York’s efforts are proving effective, with Manhattan and Staten Island expected to be proclaimed ‘long-horn beetle free’ this summer.

To ensure that long-horned beetles don’t return to U.S. shores, U.S. inspectors are periodically traveling to China to make sure that wood pallets used in shipping products to the United States are treated to kill the beetle larvae.–April Moore



4 Responses to “Hard Work Pays Off: Invasive Beetle Eradicated”

  1. Gila Says:

    Wonderful to hear a heroic story amid lots of sad ones in the ecosystems.
    I spent the last 40minutes reading through a bunch of your posts some for the first time; thanks for the education!

  2. Judy Says:

    This is most inspiring, such intelligent, diligent cooperation. Those of us in the West would love to see the eradication of the Pine Bark Beetle, but I think the infestation is way too widespread.

  3. Priscilla Says:

    Yes, it is nice to get some positive news amidst the many devastating infestations – thanks for posting, April! I fear for the fate of the many ash trees in my community (including a beautiful white ash in front of my house) as the emerald ash borer marches north from Illinois to Wisconsin. My garden hasn’t been the same since the japanese beetles arrived a few years back.

  4. Monika Kienzle Says:

    I suppose we have to be vigilant during our stay in Massachusetts this summer. Too bad that such intriguing looking creatures are able to create so much havoc. I pledge that we will get rid of some wood piles which could harbor the beetle offspring- especially since we never make wood fires during our stays at the cottage. Thank you, April, for this and all of your postings.

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