The discovery of a pernicious wasp in New York, the first time it's been found in the wild in this country, has scientists worried about a scourge that has devastated pine forests in other parts of the world.
ITHACA, N.Y. The discovery of a pernicious wasp in New York, the first time it's been found in the wild in this country, has scientists worried about a scourge that has devastated pine forests in other parts of the world.
E. Richard Hoebeke, a Cornell University entomologist, collected the Old World woodwasp on Sept. 7 in Fulton County northwest of Albany as he sifted for bark beetles caught in screening traps. He identified the adult female bug on Feb. 19.
The invasive insect species, Sirex noctilio Fabricius, has ruined up to 80 percent of pine trees in areas of New Zealand, Australia, South America and South Africa, Hoebeke said. If established in the United States, it would threaten pines coast-to-coast, particularly in the pine-dense Southeast. One target would be loblolly pines in Georgia.
The woodwasp, which is native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa, kills pines and sometimes other conifers by introducing a toxic mucus and spores of a toxic fungus when the female lays her eggs through the bark and into the sapwood.
The only other woodwasp in the United States was found in 2002 in Indiana but that was in a warehouse, not the wild, Hoebeke said.
"Whenever you find an insect in a trap, it probably is established," he said.
Federal and state regulatory agencies currently are setting multiple traps in places they suspect the woodwasp might be found.
"The potential damage from this exotic woodwasp could be monumental," Hoebeke said.
Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will test areas around where Hoebeke found the woodwasp. If one of those, or another species of interest, is found, the researchers will set traps in greater density to determine the scope of infestation, said Dore Mobley, a spokeswoman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Because the bug likes stressed wood, scientists will also examine facilities such as mills that make packaging materials out of wood that is unfit for uses like construction. They'll also use aerial photography to identify stands of pine that look unhealthy.
Douglas Allen, a forest entomologist with The College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, said he thinks the pest whose primary taste runs toward the Monterey pine could easily develop a liking for other pines in this country.
"I certainly think the threat is real," he said. "The big question is, `How much of it is there. It may just be there was one. That's the best case."
The wasp is about an inch long and has a broad waist and distinct antennas.
Since 1985 U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service inspectors have intercepted seven male woodwasps at border points; all had come with tile and marble imports from Spain and Italy.
Experts suspect the female trapped in Fulton County probably hitchhiked into the area on a wooden crate or in packing material.
A biological control method using a parasitic nematode has been effective in other countries in the southern hemisphere where the woodwasp has been accidentally introduced, Hoebeke said.
He published a report on his discovery in a recent issue of the Newsletter of the Michigan Entomological Society.
Source: Associated Press