BANGOR, Maine — If the Asian longhorned beetle were to establish itself in town, half of the city’s trees would be in danger, city forester Brian Dugas said Thursday as people gathered to look in local trees for the exotic pest.
“It would be devastating,” he said. “The susceptible trees represent about 50 percent of our street trees. It’s a very disruptive pest.”
The invasive insect, also known as Anoplophora glabripennis, attacks hardwood trees — maple, elm, horse chestnut, ash, birch, poplar, willow and others — and kills them by tunneling into their trunks and branches, eventually disrupting sap flow and weakening the tree.
So far, none of the beetles has been found in Maine, but they have spread quickly northeast since first arriving in New York in 1998, said Karen Coluzzi, entomologist and state beetle survey coordinator. They came to the United States from Asia burrowed inside wooden packing materials, she said.
Members of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Maine Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, city personnel and volunteers met at Hayford Park to kick off the beetle search in five regions around the Union Street park, home to Mansfield Stadium and Beth Pancoe pool.
“This is the period of time that they come out of the trees for breeding,” Coluzzi, said. “Later summer, early fall is when they’re most visible.”
The most recent outbreak of Asian longhorned beetles was discovered in Worcester, Mass. The goal of Thursday’s beetle survey, and one held last week in Portland, is to find out whether they have arrived in Maine, she said.
Vacationland, which relies on trees for tourism, maples to produce syrup, and lumber for a variety of industries, would be in trouble if the destructive beetles were to take hold, Coluzzi said.
“The sooner we find the beetles, the better off our state will be,” she said. “Two years ago, Massachusetts didn’t think they had it either. We don’t want to lose our trees to beetles.”
By midafternoon more than 1,000 Bangor trees had been reviewed and no signs of Asian longhorned beetles were discovered, said Trish Altieri, spokeswoman for the beetle survey sponsored by the USDA. Around 880 trees in Portland were checked last week.
“There were a few trees that were marked suspicious” in both surveys, which means they will be checked on occasion by city personnel, she said.
To stop the spread of the beetles and because there is no known pesticide that is effective against them, approximately 25,000 trees have been cut so far in Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey and New York, including some in Central Park, Coluzzi said.
Since homeowners have been the first to discover the invasive bugs in other areas, the public is being asked to keep a lookout for signs of infested trees. Asian longhorned beetle infestation signs include dime-sized holes in the tree’s bark “that you can stick a pencil inside” and scratches in the bark that the female beetles use to plant their eggs, Coluzzi said.
Bangor is a perfect place to look for the bug because “we’re near an airport, industrial parks, and I-95 goes through here,” she said.
“The more we know about it, the faster we can notice the signs,” Dugas said.