- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) - A glossy beetle that is smaller than a sesame seed is destroying huge elders, sycamores and coast live oak trees in Southern California.

The small, sluggish beetle is officially called a polyphagous (pah-LIFF’-ah-guss) shot hole borer. So far, conventional bug killers haven’t worked on the beetle.

The bug has a big appetite and leaves behind bark pocked with one-millimeter holes and dried sap around them that resembles bloodstains.

The beetles haven’t reached the alarm level of such pests as the Mediterranean fruit fly or Japanese beetle, but that is where it’s headed if scientists don’t get a handle on it soon, said Akif Eskalen, a plant pathologist with the University of California at Riverside.

“If we can’t control them,” Eskalen said, “they are going to wipe out all our trees.”

The bug has already been found as far south as San Diego, as far west as Santa Monica and as far east as Eastvale in Riverside County. The number of tree species attacked by the beetle now stands at 286, Eskalen said.

The beetles drill circular tunnels toward the tree’s center. As they head toward the core, the beetles plant the fungal spores they are carrying in their mouths like seeds. They harvest the fungus to feed their larvae

If the beetle goes unchecked, common city trees like American sweetgum and maple would develop droopy branches. Native trees like the California sycamore and coast live oak have already started to die, leaving dead tinder and the risk of fire.

There would be huge losses to avocados and other crops.

Eskalen is using DNA, and he is getting help from entomologist Richard Stouthamer to work on the problem.

The men don’t know how the beetle got to California. Most invasive species are moved on human cargo, in clothing, on wooden shipping pallets and in boats’ ballast water.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com

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