Scientists in the Field
Spiral Notebook
Beetle Season
by Loree Burns
July 15, 2014
 
Beetle Season
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When you spend two years of your life learning and talking about a flashy beetle with giant striped antennae and blue feet, an insect that has invaded your hometown and kicked off a massive beetle hunt, your friends and neighbors take notice. And if these friends and neighbors then happen to spot a beetle fitting that description, guess what the do? They send you emails. They post on your Facebook wall. They call your home phone.

“Loree!” they shout. “I’ve found one of those buggers. The Asian long horned beetle. In my backyard! Call me!”

I happen to live at ground zero for the largest infestation of Asian long horned beetles in North America. My neighbors and I have joined forces with entomologists, foresters, tree climbers and a whole host of other beetle busters to stop the infestation from spreading. Our community is under quarantine, which means we can’t move any cut wood out of it. We’ve had to watch as tens of thousands of ALB-infested and at-risk trees were cut down and chipped to pieces. And as a result, we’ve learned to pay closer attention. Especially to beetles. Every once in a while, we find one. So far, though, every single call I’ve gotten has been a false alarm. The beetle in question was not an Asian longhorned beetle but a harmless lookalike.

(Click here to see how hard it is to tell the the two apart!)

Worse still? ALB could be anywhere. It’s been found in New York and Illinois and New Jersey. A few years after it was discovered here in Massachusetts, it was found in central Ohio. No one knows where ALB might turn up next, but it’s pretty clear that the key to stopping it is people like me. And my neighbors. And you. People who pay attention to beetles.

So, if you see a large black and white beetle with striped antennae and blue-tinged feet in your summer travels, take note. Take a few photos, too. If possible, collect the beetle. (If it is ALB, officials will want to examine your specimen.) Visit this webpage to report your find and upload your photos. Someone will contact you to let you know what you’ve found. With a little luck, yours will be a harmless look-alike, too.

Come October 7, I hope you’ll check out a copy of BEETLE BUSTERS: A ROGUE INSECT AND THE PEOPLE WHO TRACK IT and read the whole fascinating ALB story.

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About Loree Burns

Loree Griffin Burns, Ph.D. lives, writes, and watches bees in central Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and three children. You can visit her at www.loreeburns.com. She is the author of the award-winning Scientists in the Field titles Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion and The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe.  Her next Scientists in the Field book is about beetles and trees.

 

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