Have you seen this bug?
It’s about 2 inches long, black and has skinny, wavy antennae about as long as its body and white, mostly rectangular, spots.
You probably never have, and if you love trees, you might want to hope you never do.
But if you run across one – say, coming out of a dime-size hole in your favorite maple tree’s trunk – environmental officials don’t want you to ignore it.
They’ve recently issued a call for Hoosiers who spot the Asian longhorned beetle to notify authorities right away as the best way to prevent the insect’s destructive spread.
So far, there are no reports of the beetle in Indiana, says Ricky Kemery, horticulture educator with the Purdue Extension on the campus of IPFW.
The nearest infestation, he says, was in the Chicago area about 10 years ago, after the beetle likely hitched a ride to the United States in wooden packing material from China.
That infestation was caught early enough to stop the insect in its 6-footed tracks, Kemery says.
But if the beetle does rear its head in Indiana, horticultural havoc won’t be far behind, he says.
“It’s a bad one,” Kemery says.
When the Asian longhorned beetle turned up in Illinois, “There was great concern about it because it was yet another pest brought in from Asia, and it had the potential to devastate trees,” Kemery says.
“Here you already have this problem with emerald ash borer killing ash trees, and this one likes hardwood species, which is a lot of what’s left.”
Scientists say affected trees are predominantly maples in the United States. But the beetle may also infest willows, birches, poplars, horse chestnuts, ashes, elms and others, they say.
Because the beetle is not native to the United States, it has no predators to keep it in check, Kemery says. And there’s no cure.
“Again, it’s so new it takes awhile to figure out what insecticide might work, or if trees can be pretreated,” he says.
Rhonda Santos, public information officer with the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s program to eradicate the beetle, says cutting down affected trees and potential hosts in proximity to them is the only way to stop the spread.
The beetles’ fatal effects can be seen where she works in Worcester County in Massachusetts, where more than 28,000 trees, about 18,000 of them infested, have been cut down since the beetle was spotted about two years ago.
This year, six trees were infested in Boston, but the spread there has apparently been eliminated, she says.
There also have been sightings in greater New York City more than a decade ago and more recently in New Jersey.
Santos says the beetle is so damaging because after its eggs hatch, its larvae tunnel into the trunk to feed on the sap, denying the tree nourishment.
When they mature, they tunnel out and start the cycle again.
“If you took a cross section of a tree invaded by the Asian longhorned beetle, it would look like Swiss cheese,” she says.
The beetle lays its eggs in tree bark.
Santos says the beetle’s potential economic impact is huge because the tree species it infests are important for products including maple syrup and lumber as well as being widely used in landscaping.
More than $70 million has been spent to control it.
Perhaps the only good news, Santos says, is that, while the beetle is a strong flier, it doesn’t stray far from home.
“It’s kind of a lazy beetle. It likes to emerge and hang out,” Santos says.
Still, eradication can call for removal of host trees within 1.5 miles of infested trees, she says.
Changes to laws governing wood-packing material means it’s likely the bug will no longer spread that way, Santos notes.
But it could still hitch a ride to Indiana with ordinary travelers and shippers and through firewood, she says.
Dave Geller, owner of Arbor Farms in Fort Wayne, says the beetle also “could be transmitted through nursery stock.”
He says he’s counting on state and federal officials to keep him and the nursery trade informed.
“Neither my suppliers or my nursery inspectors have indicated any problems to be aware of,” he says.
Chip Sutton, spokesman for the Indiana chapter of The Nature Conservancy, says that its group, in cooperation with federal officials, issued a call this month for residents to be on the lookout for the beetle.
August was declared Asian Longhorned Beetle Awareness Month by federal officials, he says.
Conservancy officials say adult beetles start to emerge as the weather gets warmer and are most active during the summer and early fall, when they can be seen on trees, branches, walls, outdoor furniture, cars and sidewalks.
Sawdust, called frass, can sometimes be spotted around the holes or at the base of a branch or trunk, and leaves may look yellow or wilted. There also may be evidence of weeping sap.
Residents are being urged to join the Asian Longhorned Beetle Forest Pest Survey and check trees in their neighborhoods.
Sightings should be reported at www.beetledetectives.com. County extension offices or state pest officials also can be contacted about the beetle.
“We have a unique opportunity to prevent its spread, before it’s too late,” says Ellen Jacquart, executive director of The Nature Conservancy.
Kemery says while checking trees, residents also should look for ash borers, which have been eating their way through ash trees in Fort Wayne neighborhoods.
End-stage damage is visible in several places this summer, Kemery says, and city workers have been cutting down affected trees.
Residents can treat their ash trees to try to prevent the borer’s spread, he says.
Kemery says he thinks it’s still safe to plant potential beetle host trees, calling any threat “relatively remote.”
“Right now, I could feel pretty good about planting a maple,” he says. “It (the Asian longhorned beetle) is not anywhere close to Fort Wayne, Ind. But, of course, there’s always concern, with all the products that come in and out.”
Geller says he hopes the beetle is never spotted locally. An infestation would affect about 75 percent of trees he sells, he says, noting he stopped selling ash trees after the emerald ash borer invasion.
“This is one bug we don’t want,” he says. “I think it would be quite devastating if it would take hold.”