Starry Sky BeetleThe Latest
Asian longhorned beetle, Anoplophora glabripennis, shown on a cross-section of
a tree it has damaged, creates large holes that inhibit the vascular system and
ultimately kill the tree.
In China, it's called the starry sky beetle because of the white, celestial
markings on its black body. But in the United States, this latest alien insect
immigrant is commonly known as the Asian longhorn beetle, Anoplophora
"Whatever name you use," says Steven W. Lingafelter, "this
pest and related species could have a devastating economic impact in the United
States. It could cause millions of dollars in damage to ornamental trees and to
the maple syrup and lumber industries." Lingafelter is a systematic
entomologist with the Agricultural Research
"This woodboring pest is native to China, Japan, and Korea and has a
natural range broad enough to guarantee it can live in most sections of this
country," he says.
The Asian longhorn beetle was first discovered on maple, horsechestnut, and
elm trees in Brooklyn, New York, in October 1996. Last July, workers there
began cutting down, chipping, and burning trees to slow the pest's spread.
Since then, the beetle has moved on to other communities in New York, and other
specimens have been seen across the country. In Amityville and Greenpoint, New
York, the beetle is attacking many types of maple and horsechestnut trees.
Recently, adults and larvae have been intercepted in forest product
shipments in California, South Carolina, and Canada. Early identification and
cargo fumigation have so far prevented establishment of this species in these
That's where Lingafelter's work has been pivotal. He is an expert on the
Asian longhorn beetle's family, Cerambycidae. It's his job to distinguish this
new pest from hundreds of other related native woodboring beetles.
Since the larvae of the Asian longhorn beetle closely resemble many native
species, regulatory agencies charged with containing the pest rely on the
expertise of ARS' Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL) to identify any
suspicious beetles. Correctly assigning names is a crucial first step to
effective control methods.
Alien pests intercepted at U.S. ports of entry are routinely sent to the
SEL, which has facilities at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural
History in Washington, D.C., and at Beltsville, Maryland. There the agency's
systematic entomologists maintain the world's largest collection of
agricultural pests of quarantine significance.
Despite efforts to monitor U.S. borders for uninvited pests, some escape
detection. Researchers believe this Asian longhorn, like many other woodboring
beetles, entered the United States in wooden crates and braces used to
transport cargo in ships. Since the larvae of these beetles live in and feed on
the wood, they are easily overlooked.
"This family of woodboring beetles occurs worldwide," Lingafelter
says. "The adults are characterized by an elongated body and very long
antennaeusually at least as long as the body. They generally live as
larvae for 1 to 3 years inside wood or roots before emerging as adults. They do
their worst damage as larvaethe life stage when they bore holes in the
wood of living trees.
"Of the thousands of native species of longhorned woodboring beetles in
the United States, most cause little harm to living trees," says
Lingafelter. "They consume dead wood, making them important primary
decomposers in our forest ecosystems.
"However, somelike the cottonwood borer of the Great Plains,
Plectrodera scalator, a close relative to Asian longhorn
beetlehave caused millions of dollars in losses to U.S. trees," he
A USDA advisory committee that includes ARS and two sister agencies, the
Forest Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is preparing
a nationwide strategy to eradicate the new pest.
"Besides chipping and burning all affected trees, other possible
controlsbirds, parasitic wasps, other beetle larvae, and robber fly
larvaeshould also be studied," says Lingafelter. By
Hank Becker, Agricultural
Research Service Information Staff, 6303 Ivy Lane, Greenbelt, Maryland 20770,
phone (301) 344-2769.
Steven W. Lingafelter is
at the USDA-ARS Systematic Entomology
Laboratory, U.S. National Museum of Natural History, NHB 168, Washington,
DC, 20560; phone (202) 382-1793, fax (202) 786-9422.
"Starry Sky BeetleThe Latest Amityville Horror" was
published in the February 1998 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
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