Invasive bug costumes destroy the competition

Posted Oct. 27, 2010, at 6:51 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Two state entomology staffers walked away recently with top prizes for their invasive bug costumes at a national consortium on forest insects and diseases.

Maine Forest Service entomologist Allison Kanoti took “Most Creative Costume” for her hemlock woolly adelgid-elongate hemlock scale costume, while Anne Bills, Maine Department of Agriculture forest pest outreach coordinator, won “Most Scientifically Accurate” for her Asian longhorned beetle costume.

The costume competition was held earlier this month during the Continental Dialogue meeting on Non-Native Forest Insects and Diseases at an event known as PestFest 2010 at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

The bug costumes, used at a number of educational and outreach events around Maine, are an important way of drawing attention to the issue of invasive insects that can severely damage Maine’s forests, according to Ann Gibbs, state horticulturist with the Maine Department of Agriculture.

“These costumes have proven to be an important outreach curiosity, getting people of all ages engaged in the effort of looking for forest pests,” Gibbs said.

Hemlock woolly adelgid is an invasive pest from Asia that kills eastern hemlock trees. At least 18 states from Maine to Georgia are infested. The bug, which looks like white woolly masses on branch tips, kills hemlock trees, which are important to water quality. The adelgid already has been found in the forests of Cumberland, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, and York counties, according to Kanoti, who monitors the infestation, as well as the elongate hemlock scale, a bug often associated with adelgid in areas to south of Maine.

So far in Maine, elongate hemlock scale has been found on planted ornamental hemlocks in three towns: Kennebunk and Kennebunkport in 2009 and this year in Cape Elizabeth. Its spread to native trees is detectable only in the immediate area of heavily infested trees. The Maine Forest Service has been conducting ongoing surveys to determine the distribution of these pests and determine where to focus control efforts.

While the highly destructive Asian longhorned beetle hasn’t yet been found in Maine, it already has been found in a number of states, including Massachusetts. The distinctive black-and-white beetle with long, body-length antennae destroys hardwoods, particularly maple trees, according to Bills.

Maine has implemented a ban on the importation of out-of-state firewood — one of the primary ways the beetle can travel — as a way to prevent the insect from entering the state and destroying Maine’s forests.

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