The Emerald Ash Borer: Small, but Deadly

10:06 PM, Sep 5, 2011   |    comments
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This Emerald Ash Borer Larva Is An Engine Of Destruction.

"This bug can't be stopped, it's just plain and simple."

It is small, less than an inch in length and colored a striking glittering green. The emerald ash borer (EAB) under any other circumstances would be considered beautiful. But to the almost 900 million ash trees across New York state, and 7.5 billion in North America, this tiny non-native insect represents a devastating threat on a monumental level.

Mark Whitmore is a Forest Entomologist at Cornell University.

He tells 2 The Outdoors, "ash trees are an important part of the northeastern forests. As we know in New York, there are many places that are almost entirely ash, especially in the wetland areas," says Whitmore. "The emerald ash borer does not stop, it seems to kill every single tree."

The insect was an unwanted import from China, most likely hitching a ride in wooden packing crates. First discovered in Michigan in 2002, the ash borer quickly spread throughout the U.S. and Canada, and has already killed over 50 million trees.

The insect's attack is insidious, and makes it very difficult to detect in its early stages, which is one of the main reasons it is proving so hard to stop.

Whitmore describes the EAB's destructive nature:

"They lay their eggs on the bark, the larvae hatches and burrows into the bark of the tree and it eats that tissue, basically girdling it, cutting off the flow of nutrients down to the roots."

Reporter: "So essentially they're starving the trees to death."

Whitmore: "They are, they are indeed. They're just starving the tree."

Given their reclusive nature as they perform their deadly work, it is always too late for the tree once the larva have begun their infestation. But other healthy trees can be saved by insecticide applications if action is taken quickly enough.

One reliable way to spot the invaders is by looking for other external cues.

Whitmore: "If you're in an area where there's woodpeckers, the woodpeckers foraging on the larvae of the tree, that's a really good indicator. You see those little holes they make when they reach into the hole and grab the larvae out."

For those who discover an infestation on their property, the realization can be shocking. For one local landowner at "ground zero" of an invasion, the need to solve the problem extends beyond his property to the surrounding community.

Sam Tadio has the misfortune of having an EAB assault on his land. "I hope to try and save whatever trees we have, not only for my sake, but for all the property owners in the whole area," says Tadio. "I understand that this is a bigger problem than just Sam Tadio's problem. It's a problem throughout Cheektowaga, Lancaster, Depew and the rest of the state. But I'll try to do my part to mitigate the circumstances."

Although the bug is a strong flier, and has been able to travel on its own, its spread has been greatly aided by man, and can therefore be limited by taking care to NEVER move firewood.

"The spread we feel is almost entirely over long distances by inadvertently carrying firewood around," says Whitmore. "It's really important at this point for people to start realizing to protect our forests, we have to stop moving firewood. It's just something we can't do anymore."

As with any invasive species, public education is one of the most important weapons in the arsenal to battle this horrendous invader.

"This is a really important issue, but people don't need to panic right now. We need to sit back, and really educate ourselves, figure out where our Ash trees are, and look at our options," says Whitmore. "That way we'll be prepared, there won't be a frantic rush to disaster, and also look to the future."

There are many informative websites on the emerald ash borer. It is critically important for the public to help out in the efforts to deal with this destructive pest.

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