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hungry pests

As the Weather Cools, Your Firewood Choices Matter

This October, the Nature Conservancy’s Don’t Move Firewood campaign and Hungry Pests, an initiative from APHIS, are partnering to present the first-ever Firewood Awareness Month. The cooler nights and quickly approaching fall season brings an increase in RV camping, hunting, and home heating. Firewood Awareness Month looks to raise public awareness about the potential danger of firewood movement as a pest and disease pathway at this high-risk time of year.

Tree-killing invasive insects and diseases can lurk both inside, and on the surface, of firewood. While these insects and diseases don’t travel far on their own, transporting firewood allows them to move hundreds of miles and start infestations in new places, explains APHIS Deputy Administrator Osama El-Lissy.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is Real, and It's More Than Just a Nuisance

While being outside in Massachusetts this June, I first noticed it.  A lot of leaves were falling from the trees, only these were chewed leaf parts, not whole leaves.

Similar to the children's book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar written by Eric Carle, some leaves didn’t just have chew marks but actual holes going straight through them.  Unlike the children’s book, this damage isn’t being caused by a friendly caterpillar who turns into a butterfly.  Instead it’s the result of ravenous gypsy moth caterpillars feeding…and feeding.  It’s so bad that in some areas, on walkways and roadways, it looks like fall.  Brown, dried up leaves are a contrast to summer’s lush greenery.

Biocontrol Staff Are Modern-Day MacGyvers in the Fight Against Invasive Beetle

Emerald ash borer (EAB) beetle is an invasive wood boring beetle, first detected in July 2002 in southeastern Michigan. The pest attacks and kills ash trees and it is responsible for the death and decline of tens of millions of ash in 25 states. EAB lives under the bark and when people move EAB-infested firewood they unknowingly move the pest. During EAB Awareness Week (May 22-28) leave HungryPests behind and don’t move firewood.

Do you remember the eighties television show MacGyver? Science genius turns secret agent. Each week Angus MacGyver—armed with only a pen, aerosol spray can and a Swiss Army knife—successfully disarms the bomb and saves the day! The following week, it’s a shoe horn, jumper cables and a screwdriver…then a thermos, belt buckle….you get the drift. Sixty minutes of ingenious, nail-biting problem-solving.

Although the show’s final episode aired almost 25 years ago, the spirit of Angus lives on at the USDA’s Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) biological control production facility, where USDA is strategically rearing natural enemies to combat this destructive pest.  Mass rearing biocontrol agents (stingless wasps) is a delicate process that’s time-sensitive, labor-intensive, and laden with problem-solving opportunities.

Invasive Pest Invades a National Comic Strip

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Awareness week is May 17-23 and my tenure in a nationally syndicated comic strip is coming to an end, so it’s a good time to tell you how a new USDA employee wound up cartoon-ized.

The Mark Trail strip—known for its environmental themes—just finished a six-week long storyline about the invasive EAB.  The EAB, a small metallic green wood-boring beetle, destroys ash trees and is now found in 25 U.S. States.  The Mark Trail strip features “Agent Abbey Powell from the USDA” and shares information about the EAB. To view the comic—beginning with my debut—visit Mark Trail.

A New Weapon in the Fight to Protect America's Ash Trees is Under Evaluation

May 18-24, 2014 is Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week

In our efforts to preserve and protect American ash trees from the damaging and invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) beetle, APHIS is working diligently to find and implement solutions that have the potential to successfully conserve this beautiful natural resource. Spathius galinae (S. galinae) just could be that newest weapon in the arsenal.

The tiny stingless wasp, about the size of a typical mosquito, targets and attacks EAB larvae living under the bark of ash trees.  Crawling along the bark ridges and furrows, S. galinae somehow senses EAB larvae hidden below.  The wasp not only accurately locates its target, but also is able to determine relative size—showing preference for large EAB larvae.  Once a suitable larva is detected, the female wasp uses its long egg-laying organ (ovipositor) like a hydraulic drill to bore down through the layers of bark and deposit between 5 and 15 eggs on its host.  After the eggs hatch, the wasp offspring feed on the EAB larva, eventually killing it.  A new generation of S. galinae emerges in about 35 days.

Boston Beats the Asian Longhorned Beetle

One of the things I consider a highlight of my career and that I will always remember is our successful response to the July 2010 detection of the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) in Boston, Massachusetts.  As I attended the May 12 ceremony commemorating the eradication of the ALB infestation in Boston and listened to the speakers share their thoughts about what it took to get us there, I had a deep sense of appreciation for the partnership among the state and federal cooperators who worked together to bring us to that day.  It was swift action and continued diligence that protected Boston’s trees from further destruction.

APHIS and its cooperators were able to accomplish the goal of eradicating ALB in Boston in less than 4 years.  Thanks also go to a community member who reported the infestation early.  That early detection and report resulted in the loss of only 6 infested trees.

But as I celebrate our first victory over the invasive pest in Massachusetts, I am compelled to ask you to remain vigilant in inspecting your trees regularly for signs of the beetle and report any suspicious damage to your State Plant Health Director.

Why Research is Vital for Eradicating the Asian Longhorned Beetle

In addition to the existing science-based eradication protocols for fighting an Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) infestation, such as surveying trees and removing infested ones, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) relies on on-going research to not only improve current protocols, but also to develop new ones.

APHIS’s Center for Plant Health Science and Technology continues research to develop attractant-baited traps designed to lure and capture adult insects. The attractants include plant odors and pheromones, which are naturally occurring chemicals created and used by insects to communicate with each other.  These attractants are used to lure beetles to traps that are hung on trees that the beetle will attack.  Traps can aid in early detection of insects in areas where survey staff may not be working. When the traps are checked by staff members and a beetle is found, nearby trees may be surveyed to determine if they are infested. This year, the traps will be placed in the spring and early summer in strategic locations in all three ALB-affected states: New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio.  APHIS is also working with the U.S. Forest Service and Penn State University on their research with similar ALB traps.

Help USDA Stop Invaders that Could Devastate U.S. Crops and Forests

Big, creepy, and horned, the coconut rhinoceros beetle (CRB) loves to feed on—and kill—coconut and other palms, banana plants, and more.  This invasive species, detected in Hawaii in December 2013, makes the perfect poster child for USDA’s Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month—a child only its mother could love.

How did it get here? And how can we prevent the spread of damaging, invasive species like this unwanted, oversized beetle?  These are great questions to consider as USDA kicks off Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.  Throughout April, we’re raising public awareness about the threat of invasive species and informing people how to prevent their spread—so we’ll face fewer surprises like the CRB.

What does Maple Syrup Have in Common with an Invasive Insect?

Today is National Maple Syrup Day!  So, what does maple syrup have in common with an invasive insect?  Well, if the insect is the Asian longhorned beetle, then they both can come from maple trees.  Obviously, we want the maple syrup and not the invasive beetle.  But who cares?  And why should anyone care?  Well, I care and here’s why:

Not only do I work for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency that is actively fighting known infestations of Asian longhorned beetle in three different states, but I also am a native of Vermont.

Feral Swine: Ripping and Rooting Their Way across America

Feral swine have been called the “rototillers” of nature. Their longs snouts and tusks allow them to rip and root their way across America in search of food.  Unfortunately, the path they leave behind impacts ranchers, farmers, land managers, conservationists, and suburbanites alike. April, Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month, is a great time to learn about this serious threat to both plant and animal health.