Beetle Invasion to Dim New England Fall Colors?

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
November 19, 2008

A beetle invasion could mean big trouble for New England's trees—and the syrup fans and leaf peepers who love them.

A recent infestation of the Asian longhorned beetle in Massachusetts may portend a grim future for the sprawling hardwood forests, which are rich with maples and other tree species favored by the pest.

Experts also fear the aptly named bugs, which sport long, black-and-white striped antennae, could join a list of infamous tree scourges.

"Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight—those were devastating but limited to one [tree] species," said Christine Markham, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Asian Longhorned Beetle Cooperative Eradication Program.

"This beetle could have a tremendous impact if left unchecked."

(Read more about alien invaders in National Geographic magazine.)

For instance, long-term economic losses to industry, including lumber and tourism, could potentially hit billions of dollars, experts predict.

New Foothold

Since the distinctive black creature with white spots first appeared in Brooklyn, New York, in 1996, it has turned up in forests in Chicago, New Jersey, and Toronto.

The beetles were discovered in Worcester, Massachusetts, in summer 2008.

As it turned out, a 62-square mile (160-square kilometer) infestation had gone unnoticed for about eight years.

Beetle larvae bore into trees to feast on their tissue, emerging through boreholes in the summer.

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