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Texas trees die amid ‘alarming’ insect invasion

An “alarming” invasive insect has been found in other areas of Texas, infesting and killing trees.

The invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) has been detected in Grayson, Hill, Hood, McLennan and Palo Pinto counties, the Texas A&M Forest Service reported in a statement.

The beetles are green and native to northeast Asia. They were first detected in North America in 2002 and have since become established in Michigan, Ontario in Canada, Indiana, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia. And now they are spreading even further across Texas. It is believed that in 2002 they arrived from China through wood from transport boxes.

As a wood-boring beetle, it lays its eggs in the bark of ash trees. When these eggs hatch, they embed themselves in the tree and feed on it.

ash borers
A file photo shows emerald ash borers in a hand. The species has been detected in several other counties in Texas.

ziggy1/Getty

As a result, these ash trees die. According to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, they are causing the death and deterioration of the health of tens of millions of ash trees across the United States.

This is concerning as ash trees are very important to the North American ecosystem. They provide food and habitat for wildlife and are a vital feature of northern hardwood forests. Once EAB has infested the tree, it typically dies within two to five years.

“The spread of EAB to these counties is alarming,” Allen Smith, regional forest health coordinator for the Texas A&M Forest Service, said in a statement. “EAB is more likely to spread to adjacent counties, but the spread to McLennan County indicates that humans are transmitting EAB, which is preventable.”

The beetles were found after officials discovered adult specimens in each of the five boroughs in early May. After collection, they were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which then confirmed the species.

Invasive species like this are hugely damaging to ecosystems. Because they are not native to the local environment, they can drastically alter habitats and compete with other endemic species.

The Texas A&M Forest Service is trying to control the EAB population by setting traps each year.

“Since 2018, we have placed nearly 500 traps annually in central, eastern and northern Texas to observe the presence and movement of the insect,” Smith said in the release. “Both healthy and unhealthy ash trees are susceptible to EAB attack and have no natural resistance to the invasive insect.

“Without adequate proactive measures, mortality can be 100% in heavily infested areas, so early detection could improve our chances of controlling the pest.”

According to the USDA website, traps are hung on ash trees in the lower to mid canopy, at least 5 feet off the ground. When possible they are placed on the sunny side of the tree. If an EAB lands in a trap, it becomes trapped in the glue.

Once the insects are detected in an area of ​​Texas, the USDA initiates a quarantine of any ash material, to try to prevent further spread.

“There is no known way to stop the spread of EAB,” said Demian Gómez, regional forest health coordinator for the Texas A&M Forest Service. “But we can help communities minimize losses, diversify their tree species, and increase the health and resilience of urban forests.”

Following this most recent spread, the Texas A&M Forest Service will continue trying to prevent the insects from establishing themselves in other areas, in addition to helping already affected communities, they reported.

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