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2016 Winter Moth Survey

It’s that time of year again: winter moths and other related species have started to show up at porch lights across the state. The winter moth (Operophtera brumata) is an invasive species first discovered in Massachusetts in the 1990s. Winter moth caterpillars are highly efficient tree defoliators, often stripping the leaves of oaks, maples and other hardwood trees down to lacy skeletons.

In mid-to-late fall, at a time of year where insect activity is practically at a standstill, these small brown winter moths will be seen across the eastern half of the state, sometimes congregating at porch lights by the hundreds. There are other similar-looking native moths active at this time of year, such as the Bruce spanworm moth and the fall cankerworm moth, but they are typically not seen in such large numbers. While the state does not regulate winter moth, some towns/cities do tree treatments, and the Elkinton Lab at University of Massachusetts Amherst currently has a biological control program underway.

Male and female winter moth. Females have tiny, vestigial wings and are flightless.

Helpful links:

  • For more information on winter moth biology and management, see this fact sheet from UMass Extension.
  • For more examples of male and female winter moths and related species, see this photo gallery.
  • If you would like to email a photo, please use our Pest Reporting Form.

Looking Back: Forest Pest Awareness Month 2016

Once again in 2016 August was officially declared Forest Pest Awareness month by the governor as part of an effort to raise awareness about invasive insects such as Asian Longhorned Beetle and Emerald Ash Borer. Over the course of August, much was done to increase the public’s awareness of these introduced pests.

forest pest awareness month decree

The official announcement and proclamation for Forest Pest Awareness Month, signed by the governor

Due to the longevity of the Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) eradication program in central Massachusetts, it remains important to continually update citizens on the efforts of the eradication program and the current state of the infestation. The most common questions we get at public events are about whether ALB has spread to a certain town or city, how close the ALB Cooperative Eradication Program is to completely getting rid of the beetle, and how to identify this invasive pest. People also often ask questions about other insects they’ve seen and are concerned about, or about suspicious damage to one of their trees. We are always happy to answer these questions and help teach curious citizens how monitor their own trees and properties for invasive pests.

Here is just a sampling of events we attended during this year’s Forest Pest Awareness Month.

Green Hill Neighborhood Association Annual Picnic, Worcester, 8/06/16

Tabling a local event

The ALB Cooperative Eradication Program provided attendees with up-to-date information about their work. Being invited to table at this event was a great opportunity to address homeowners directly in a neighborhood hit hard by the ALB infestation.
9th Annual Barbara J. Walker Butterfly Festival, Worcester, 8/13/16

A family models ALB antennae

The Butterfly Festival is a popular event held each year at Worcester’s Broad Meadow Brook Audubon Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary. Families who attended learned how to identify ALB while enjoying the beautiful walking trails (populated with ALB-susceptible maples). We gave away lots of ALB antennae headbands, always a very popular item with kids and families…after learning about how to positively identify ALB, kids can look like one!

Westborough Farmers Market, Westborough, 8/18/16

Westborough lies outside the quarantine area, and luckily has not experienced any ALB survey activity. However, it borders the eastern edge of the quarantine, and market attendees were very interested in learning about the beetle and current eradication efforts.

37th Annual Holden Days, Holden, 8/27/16

A typical table setup for our outreach events

Large events like Holden Days bring a steady stream of people to our table with great questions about ALB. We were visited by plenty of very knowledgeable students eager to share what they knew about ALB, as well as outdoor-oriented families looking for information about how to identify ALB and the trees it attacks.

During August we also sent outreach packages to 5 additional events and organizations, and distributed over 1,200 items such as ALB ID cards, host tree species guides, temporary tattoos, and antennae headbands. But forest pest awareness does end with August! Asian Longhorned Beetles pose a year-round threat that has to be constantly monitored. If you have an event that you would like to hand out ALB material at, you can order educational materials free of charge at http://bit.ly/FPOMOrder, or reach out to joshua.bruckner@state.ma.us if you’re interested in MDAR staff attending a future event your organization is planning.

Emerald Ash Borer Continues its Spread

EABCitiesTownsAug2016_redux

With the recent detection of emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis, “EAB”) in three new municipalities (Boxford, Newton and Wilbraham), the total number of Massachusetts counties impacted by this pest has now risen to six (see Table 1). Emerald ash borer, an invasive wood-boring pest that threatens our forests and urban landscapes, was first discovered in in Berkshire County in the town of Dalton back in 2012. It has since spread to various other counties throughout the state. While the expansion of the state’s EAB infestation is to be expected, agencies such as the Dept. Of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Dept. of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) are working together to do all they can to slow its spread.

Since its initial discovery in Detroit, Michigan back in 2002, EAB has killed tens of millions of ash trees across the country and cost billions of dollars in damages. Confirmed infestations range as far west as Colorado and as far south as Texas; Delaware became the most recent state to confirm its presence, just this past August. It is expected that EAB will eventually overtake every state on the eastern seaboard as it continues to devastate native ash populations.

Unfortunately, officials have determined this pest spreads too far too fast to stop its spread. Instead efforts are currently focusing on mitigating EAB’s impact and monitoring its overall movement. One such strategy involves targeting areas in proximity to a known infestation with a combination of pheromone traps and so-called “sink trees”, trees that have been girdled to make them more attractive to wood boring pests. This allows foresters to track the general direction EAB is moving in and gives us better information to better prepare neighboring communities for the arrival of this pest. There is also a citizen science program, known as Massachusetts Wasp Watchers, that tracks a native non-stinging wasp (known as the Smokey-Winged Beetle Bandit, Cerceris fumipennis) that preys on EAB and other related beetles. The program, known as “biosurveillliance,” is what led to the discovery of EAB in the city of Newton earlier this summer. DCR is also participating in a biocontrol program that attempts to suppress established populations of EAB through the release of tiny parasitoid wasps that target the beetle’s larvae and eggs.

With all of these surveillance and management tools at hand, there is a lot communities themselves can do to prepare for this pest. To learn more about EAB and what steps you and your community can take to manage your ash trees before they are impacted, visit:

What’s Being Done During Forest Pest Awareness Month

August is Forest Pest Awareness Month in Massachusetts, a state-appointed time to focus on Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) (Anoplophora glabripennis) and other invasive insects. ALB is a species of great concern because it attacks and destroys a wide range of native hardwood trees, including maple. Human efforts remain the best methods to detect the presence of ALB and prevent it from spreading further and causing more damage.

So what is being done?

Two ground survey crew members

If you live in or near Worcester, where the ALB infestation in Massachusetts is located, you may have noticed staff from the eradication program working outside. Perhaps they’ve knocked on your door to explain what they need to do in your front yard. Ground surveyors are the backbone of the ALB eradication effort. They inspect trees with binoculars from every angle, searching for telltale signs of damage, including perfectly round exit holes, chewed-up looking egg sites, and frass (sawdust left behind by the larva).  These aren’t always an easy to see on large trees, or when leaves and branches can conceal damage. Surveying a tree just once isn’t enough: areas are re-surveyed for several years for any signs of the beetle.

Typical ALB damage: note the perfectly round exit holes

An adventurous tree inspector

If the ground surveyors see something suspicious, such as a hole in a tree or damaged bark, a more thorough inspection of a tree may be required. This is where climbers come in. Specially trained, they use their gear to climb trees with suspected ALB damage to see if that suspicious mark is from ALB or some other insect or source. Some of the trees that require inspection by the climbers are daunting, either due to their height or perilous location or apparent instability, but the climbers are trained and experienced to do the job efficiently and safely.

Checking an ALB trap for beetles

Another method of detecting the presence of ALB include traps, which you may have seen in and around Worcester. These traps lure beetles with a combination of beetle pheromones and tree scents. The adult beetle, which is a clumsy flier, slides down the plastic walls and into a cup of salt water, preventing escape. The traps serve as an early warning detection system, alerting surveyors to the spread of ALB.

As Forest Pest Awareness Month ends, take time to learn what ALB damage looks like and inspect the trees in you neighborhood for any signs of damage. The more the public knows, the more effective we can be at combating ALB! People who are able to monitor their own trees for suspicious damage are a big help in the fight against invasive forest pests. If you suspect you have seen ALB or found a tree with ALB damage, report it at http://massnrc.org/pests/albreport.aspx.  More information can be found at http://massnrc.org/pests/alb/

ALB damage picture from americanforests.org. All other pictures courtesy of USDA/APHIS

New Laminated Guide Sheets

ALB look-alikes guide, 8.5×11 inches

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) has new items in stock that you can order, free of charge, to help raise awareness about the invasive Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB).  Two of our most popular handouts, our ALB look-alike sheet and our ALB tree guide, are now available in single-sided laminated form, perfect for display outside or indoors.  You can use them to educate campers, tenants, office workers and visitors, park goers, or any passersby about how to identify this invasive pest and the trees it attacks. Community involvement and awareness is a key part of the effort to eradicate ALB.  The more people know about the beetle, the better equipped they will be to stop it from spreading.

To place an order for this and other educational material, visit http://bit.ly/FPOMOrder

ALB host tree guide, 11×17 inches

Hey, That’s Not ALB!

Just a reminder: Here in Massachusetts, the bugs may be flying, but Asian Longhorned Beetle won’t emerge from the trees until July. If you’re seeing big black beetles with long, long antennae in May and early June, they are almost certainly the native look-alikes knows as Whitespotted Pine Sawyers. Read more in this blog post from our archives.
Asian Longhorned Beetle vs. Whitespotted Pine Sawyer

Arbor Day Ash Tree Tagging

With Arbor Day only a month away, it’s time to think about planning how we can celebrate trees and their ability to provide our neighborhoods with clean air, shaded streets, and aesthetic value. This year, why not consider joining our Arbor Day ash tree tagging project! Spearheaded by the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), the goal of this project is to get as many organizations as possible to tag at least one ash tree to spread the word about Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).

EAB Tag for Ash Trees

EAB is an invasive tree-killing beetle from Asia that feeds on ash trees (Fraxinus spp.), a common component of our urban forests and rural woodlands. First detected in Massachusetts in 2012, established EAB infestations have now been confirmed in more than ten communities across four counties in our state (Berkshire, Essex, Suffolk, and Worcester). Infested ash trees die in 3-5 years, in many cases becoming hazards to people and property as dead trees decay and fall apart.

If you have ash trees in your town and want to help raise awareness about the impact of Emerald Ash Borer this Arbor Day (April 29th), MDAR is offering free Tree Tagging Kits to interested groups. The kits come with tags printed on high-visibility green plastic board, flagging tape to tie them onto trees, and a tip sheet to get the most out of your tagging efforts. Through raising awareness of the impact of Emerald Ash Borer, we hope to foster early detection of this pest, something that will provide communities with the time needed to prepare for the EAB’s arrival and make important decisions about how to manage their ash trees. To submit a request for a free kit, visit http://bit.ly/outreachreq.

UmassAmherstTreeTag0620151

Winter Moth Survey Results 2015

Spring is in the air! With these mild temperatures, tree buds are beginning to swell and soon the winter moths we witnessed swarming at our porch lights over winter will start hatching into hungry, green caterpillars. The winter moth (Operophtera brumata) is an invasive species first discovered in Massachusetts in the 1990s. Winter moth caterpillars are highly efficient tree defoliators, often stripping the leaves of oaks, maples and other hardwood trees down to lacy skeletons.

Between November 2015 and January 2016 over 2200 people took the time to respond to our survey after being “bugged” by swarms of winter moth. Here are some of the results:

Winter Moth Caterpillar

Winter Moth Caterpillar
Photo by R. Childs

Of the 2200+ responses received in our survey the counties with the highest number of participants were:

  • Middlesex
  • Essex
  • Norfolk

However, the individual towns with the most respondents were:

  • Chelmsford
  • Boston
  • Milton

While we’ve been slowly watching the winter moth expand its range westward in Massachusetts, we only saw a small uptick in survey participation in Worcester County.

It’s important to note that high turn-out for a town or county is not at all indicative of increased winter moth activity in those areas, rather just that these folks are probably more active on social media and sharing of the survey among local groups was more popular!

The majority of people responding to the survey indicated that the winter moths were most commonly seen at the porch lights on their homes, and over half of respondents reported seeing 50+ winter moths at a time (i.e. LOTS)!

As in previous years, the information collected through this survey is shared with scientists over at the University of Massachusetts where they are working on a biological control program to combat the winter moth.

2015 Wasp Watchers Round-up!

The results are in… MassWasp Watchers Massachusettsachusetts Wasp Watchers had a record season in 2015!

The smoky-winged beetle bandit (Cerceris fumipennis) is a native, non-stinging wasp species that feeds its young by catching Buprestid beetles, including the most infamous: emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis). Cerceris wasps are an important early detection tool that can assist in slowing the spread of emerald ash borer (EAB) and alerting us to potential infestations in new counties and towns in Massachusetts.

With EAB detections now in four Massachusetts counties (Berkshire 2012, Essex 2013, Suffolk 2014, Worcester 2015), volunteers and staff did a great job ramping up their Wasp Watcher efforts. This November, EAB was found by crews surveying for the invasive Asian Longhorned Beetle in the city of Worcester. (EAB Found in Worcester)

Smoky-Winged Beetle Bandit with EAB prey. Photo Credit: Philip Careless, University of Guelph, Insect Systematics Lab

Sixteen people participated in this year’s Wasp Watchers program by visiting established Cerceris colonies, monitoring the wasp nests and collecting discarded buprestid beetles. The 2015 Massachusetts Wasp Watchers achieved the following:

 

  • Checked 141 sites throughout Essex, Barnstable, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Plymouth and Worcester counties.
  • Completed 282 site visits in total.
  • Collected beetles at 42 locations in 30 different towns.
  • Together, we collected a total of 648 Buprestid beetles
  • Of the 648 Buprestid beetles that were picked up, 256 were Agrilus species.  Agrilus is the buprestid genus we care the most about, because there are several non-native Agrilus species of interest, including EAB. However, NONE of our Agrilus were EAB or any other target pests.

 

Thank you to all who participated in this year’s survey!

Emerald Ash Borer Preparedness Forum

In early January, the Mass. Dept. of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) partnered with the Massachusetts Forest Pest Task Force to hold an Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Preparedness Forum at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA. The event had a great turnout, with over 65 participants from more than 30 communities across Massachusetts in attendance. This day-long forum provided attendees with an update on the current status of EAB in our state as well as information about what should be done to prepare for this pest and how to get the resources to do so. More importantly, participants, who were representatives from communities impacted or soon-to-be impacted by EAB, gathered together with experts, including representatives from MDAR, MA Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, US Forest Service, USDA, Cornell University, UMass Amherst, and National Grid, to discuss new ideas about how communities in Massachusetts can best prepare for and respond to EAB.

EAB_Overview_small

Nathan Siegert, US Forest Service, provides participants an overview of EAB.

Resource_Table_small

Resources lined the tables upon participant’s arrival to the forum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you were unable to attend the forum or would simply like to check out all of the great resources provided that day, we have now made them available online! Detailed notes covering all of the day’s sessions, PowerPoints for each of the presentations, and digital versions of the resources provided are now accessible at the following link: http://bit.ly/1KD8ebS