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Editorial: Beetle poses danger to assortment of trees

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For several years, Johnson County residents have been concerned with the emerald ash borer, a foreign invader that has been marching across Indiana. Now there’s another overseas pest threatening Indiana’s woods, and this one isn’t limited to a single species of tree.

The Asian longhorned beetle has been responsible for the loss of more than 130,00 trees in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio and Illinois since being discovered in the United States in 1996, according to the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The beetle is believed to have arrived in the U.S. inside wood-packing material from Asia.

While the beetle hasn’t been found in Indiana, it is present in a Cincinnati suburb and in the Chicago suburbs.

Jayson Waterman, a forester with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said, “It does not move very fast at all.

“It’s a very, very large bug and doesn’t travel very far. It eats a lot of different kinds of trees, so it doesn’t have to fly any great distance to find something to eat on and lay its eggs. This is one bug, if we find it, we can eradicate it relatively easily as opposed to the emerald ash borer, which by the time we find it, it has moved 5 miles away.”

The adult beetle has a shiny, jet black body about 1 to 1½ inches long with white spots and with antennae longer than the beetle body and banded with black and white stripes.

They may have blue feet. The bugs chew their way out of the tree, leaving a perfectly round, dime-sized hole. While threatening looking, it is harmless to humans and pets, experts say.

The threat to Indiana trees is serious enough that Gov. Mike Pence declared last week as Asian Longhorned Beetle Awareness Week to help educate Hoosiers about the potential threat to urban and rural forests in the state.

Fortunately, because the pest is relatively slow-moving, eradication is much easier than with emerald ash borer. Infected trees are cut down and chipped, leaving insufficient material for the beetle to survive.

But homeowners remain the first line of defense. They need to monitor the health of their trees and check with experts whenever they spot a problem.

In addition, everyone must continue with efforts to restrict the movement of firewood from one area to another. When camping, buy only certified local wood and burn all that you have. This will be prevent movement of pest from one region to another and eliminate overwintering sites for damaging pests.

And if you do see beetle activity, make sure it’s the invasive variety, not the native longhorned beetles, which go after dead trees and are not a problem.

In a global community, invasive pests will be a continuing issue. Fortunately, the Asian longhorned beetle has been identified before it can establish a major foothold; and with public watchfulness, we can keep the invader at bay.

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