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Maple Tree Species Is Asian Longhorned Beetle's Favorite

By Erin Peabody
February 4, 2004

To an adult Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), the wafting aromas of a certain maple tree, the Shantung maple (Acer mono), are downright irresistible. This finding by an Agricultural Research Service scientist is central to new tactics in the battle against the beetle, an invasive insect that threatens to destroy deciduous trees across the eastern United States and Canada.

ARS insect behaviorist Michael T. Smith has found that the beetles are drawn to the aromatic chemicals--called "volatiles"--of some tree species. Significantly, these trees may be used in efforts to detect, capture and kill the unwelcome insect.

Smith determined the maple tree's status as a highly attractive species during field studies in Gansu Province, China. Like the beetle, the tree species is native to eastern China.

Acting as a sentinel tree, an attractive tree species may be planted, or set out in pots, in an area thought to be infested by the beetle pests. When treated with an insecticide or other killing agent prior to its use, a sentinel tree can be transformed into a lethal "attract-and-kill" system.

Detecting the beetle has, up to now, been one of the most trying aspects of ALB eradication. That's largely due to the insect's cryptic nature. For most of its life cycle, the beetle stays hidden deep within the tree, feeding on vital tissues.

Smith, who works at the agency's Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Laboratory in Newark, Del., is also collaborating with an ARS colleague to develop lures containing the tree odor attractants that are most compelling to the beetle. Special blends of these attractants can then be deployed with traps inside potentially infested areas.

These recent findings stem from Smith's research to discover how the insects orient to their host trees. The beetle locates a host tree, suitable for feeding and egg-laying by relying on vision and odors, which are sensed via its eyes and antennae, respectively.

Read more about the research in this month's issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.