One of them will fit neatly on top of a penny. Some even say their burgundy and green iridescent wings are pretty. But make no mistake: The emerald ash borer is here to kill.
A Kansas City arborist has found an emerald ash borer-infested tree on 37th Street and Warwick Boulevard, headed toward the lovely ash tree-lined boulevards of Ward Parkway.
Kansas City has been removing stressed ash trees in poor condition. So have Fairway and Mission Hills.
“We are facing heavy infestation of ash trees in the downtown area,” said Kansas City arborist Kevin Lapointe. He said Kansas City was proactive quite early, innoculating 5,100 healthy public ash trees in the city in 2012 and 2013. The city’s future plans include stressing trees in bad condition to do away with them, and cutting down others in poorer shape.
Other cities, such as Leawood, have approved master plans. City administrator Scott Lambers says Leawood will inoculate as many healthy ash trees as it can. It will cut down 120 ash trees a year, replacing them with 40 new ash trees and other species each year.
Some other cities in the metro area, including Overland Park and Shawnee, are still working on their final attack plans to protect as many ash trees in public areas as they can.
The borers have infiltrated millions of the 8 billion ash trees in the country, including all of Missouri, and Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas. There are 400,000 ash trees on private property in the metro area, and 4.6 million on public and private land altogether.
The carnage of ash trees started in the metro area in 2012 with a dead ash tree in Parkville that was several decades old.
The property owner called Urban Tree Specialists, which sent out arborist Bret Cleveland to investigate.
“We had heard about the emerald ash borer, and heard about it and heard about it, but hadn’t seen it,” Cleveland said.
He recognized it the minute he looked at the tree.
The bark was separated from the trunk, and inside, Cleveland found “S” shaped tunnels. Those channels are where the emerald ash borer larvae had chewed and sipped all the tree’s nutrients until it died.
The “S” shaped tunnel is one tell-tale sign of the borers. The insects also leave behind tiny, 1/8-inch “D” shaped holes where adults crawled out of the bark. You’ll see 3- to 5-inch gashes in the bark; if you peel back the bark, you’ll find the “S” shaped tunnels. The final sign: leafy suckers, in a prolific attempt to keep the tree alive, start sprouting near the bottom of the ash tree.
Cleveland found the tiny holes in the bark where the adult beetles had flown the coop.
He found other dead ash trees in the neighborhood.
“There were 25 to 30 dead ash trees in that neighborhood,” said Cleveland. “I’d say it’s up to 100 dead trees by now.”
The borers have no predators in the United States. Not even the coldest of winters can kill them as they wait for summer, said Dennis Patton, horticulture agent for Johnson County K-State Research and Extension.
“There are people who are terrified,” said Patton, who travels around Kansas giving presentations to the public, handing out advice on how to protect their ash trees.
He said some people get so upset about losing their ash trees that they go into a panic.
“People can get emotional about their trees. Plus it can affect them financially,” Patton said.
Injecting one tree with a pesticide to kill the emerald ash borer can cost $100 to $150. The protection lasts for one to two years. Then foresters have to do it all over again, for the same or greater cost.
Do-it-yourself insecticide kits cost about the same amount of money as professional jobs, and the property owner has to repeat it every year.
In most cities, property owners are responsible for trees planted between the sidewalk and the curb.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture believe the beetles were stowaways from Chinese ship docks. They think the ships put in at Detroit’s harbors in the early 2000s. The insects, they speculate, arrived in infected wood that was used to stabilize cargo.
Government officials believe the beetles spread slowly out of Detroit, infecting states in the upper Northeast and East. From there, they most likely drifted southwest, eventually reaching Missouri and Kansas.
One way they traveled was in infected firewood that crossed county and state lines.
In fact, USDA officials and state officials are now quarantining firewood in infected counties, begging the public to burn only very local wood.
The emerald ash borer can fly on its own power about half a mile. Once females have spotted a weak tree, they can lay 200 eggs apiece. For three weeks, the larvae tunnel between the sapwood and the bark, interrupting the flow of food and water to the tree. Within three weeks, the larvae eat their way out of the tree and the now-adults move to the uppermost leaves, munching their fill.
“By the time you notice symptoms of EAB, it’s too late. That tree is dead,” said Patton.
The USDA said in an online publication that the emerald ash borer has the potential to decimate the ash tree population in North America.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it (the death of the ash trees). The big travesty is not so much that we’ll lose trees. The tragedy is that people might not replant,” said Patton.
The emerald green beetle does not attack humans or animals.