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Beetles Attack Trees in Pender, Bladen

By Roderick McClain

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/whqr/local-whqr-979595.mp3

Wilmington, NC – North Carolina is now home to the red bay ambrosia beetle, an insect entomologists say can attack living trees with a deadly fungus. WHQR's Roderick McClain reports the tree-born disease travels 20 miles a year naturally, though faster with human assistance.

Officials have spotted Laurel Wilt disease, a fatal affliction that blocks the movement of water through trees in dozens of counties in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and now Bladen and Pender counties in North Carolina.

The female red bay ambrosia beetle bores through the bark of a tree to lay eggs. For some North Carolina trees, this non-native beetle which carries the Laurel Wilt fungus in its mouthparts is a death sentence.

The beetle bores into trees from the Laurel family, which includes sassafras, pondberry, and spicebush.

Ryan Blaedow with the state Division of Forest Resources says the symptoms are similar to those of any wilting plant, but affected trees can retain their leaves for up to three years.

"When these trees are killed, basically you have dead trees with bright red or bright reddish brown leaves hanging on them."

Blaedow says the best way to manage an infested tree is to leave it on site. He says it's fine to cut down dead or diseased trees as long as the wood is burned or tarped, but not transported.

"It's really important not to transport that wood to, say for instance, a landfill, because every time you drive this twenty miles down the road you spread the disease twenty miles farther."

The fungus was first discovered in Georgia, back in 2002. Officials believe the fungus-carrying beetle arrived in the United States by way of wooden crating material from Southeast Asia.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? If so, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the WHQR News Team.