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Alien Woodwasp Could Zap U.S. Pines


An adult female woodwasp, similar to the one recently discovered in Fulton, N.Y., and the first of its kind ever found in the eastern United States. Photo: Kent Loeffler/Cornell University.

Despite precautions at U.S. ports, a dangerous, tree-chomping enemy has infiltrated the nation's borders. Taken captive in Fulton, N.Y., and identified by a Cornell University expert, the adult female alien is the only one of its kind ever discovered in the eastern United States.

The discovery of a single specimen of Sirex noctilio Fabricius, an Old World woodwasp, raises red flags across the nation because the invasive insect species has devastated up to 80 percent of pine trees in areas of New Zealand, Australia, South America and South Africa. If established in the United States, it would threaten pines coast-to-coast, particularly in the pine-dense states in the Southeast. One target would be loblolly pines in Georgia.

Finding one bug in a trap is no small matter. Where there's one, there's likely to be more, says E. Richard Hoebeke, a Cornell senior extension associate in entomology. "Whenever you find an insect in a trap, it probably is established."

Both federal and state regulatory agencies currently are carrying out a large dragnet, setting multiple traps in places they suspect the woodwasp may be doing its destructive work. The effort is widespread because, Hoebeke says, "The potential damage from this exotic woodwasp could be monumental."

The woodwasp, which is native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa, where it rarely is a pest, kills pines, and sometimes several other types of 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 of the tree.

"If S. noctilio is found to be established in New York or elsewhere in the U.S., we could launch a rapid response to contain and control the infestation," says Hoebeke. A biological control method using a parasitic nematode has been remarkably effective in other countries in the southern hemisphere where the woodwasp has been accidentally introduced, he says.


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June 17, 2019, 8:38 am PDT

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