New York tries beetle monitors

Acoustic devices listen for chewing of Asian longhorn pests

April 28, 2002|By Dan Janison | Dan Janison,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK - Trees in Central Park will be electronically "bugged" to find real bugs - with acoustic devices that detect the subtle sound of beetles chewing wood, officials have announced.

This experiment in eavesdropping marks the latest tool in the fight to control the larvae of the Asian longhorn beetle, a tree-killer that has appeared in recent years in New York City and Long Island.

The devices, connected by cables to one or many trees at a time in any number of ways, were touted at a recent news conference with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in Central Park.

But while the devices are tested, the plan is to inject thousands more hardwood trees with beetle-proofing insecticides than were "vaccinated" this way last year.

Regionally, "the problem is definitely getting better," said Christine Markham, who heads the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Asian Longhorn Beetle program. "We had less infestation last year."

But areas of concern remain.

"This year we are aggressively going after the beetle with the trunk injection," Markham said.

The injections begin May 1 and will run through mid-July while the sap is running. The public is to receive 48 hours' notice of capsules placed in the tree, for about four hours at a time to allow the chemical to circulate. "We do need the cooperation of the public in allowing us to go on their properties to treat the trees. It's critical for the program's success," Markham said.

In Central Park, 9,000 hardwood trees such as elms and maples have been inspected with no further infection discovered, said city Park Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

Infested trees cannot be saved and are destroyed, chipped and burned to prevent the beetle's spread to nearby trees. The beetle is believed to have come to the region through infested wood pallets, or crates, from its native China.

Robert Haack of Michigan, a research entomologist for the U.S. Forest Service, said the beetle detector will help in cases where trees are be infested but where the signs of the beetles - dime-shaped holes and crude sawdust on branches - are not readily visible yet.

"If we attach one of these listening devices to the tree, then we can listen for a few hours, and if we hear no feeding sounds inside, then we can be pretty assured there's no active infestation in that tree," Haack said.

The chemical imidacloprid is directly injected into the tree from within closed capsules, "so you're not going to have any children or other people exposed to it," Markham said. But the tree is guarded during the four-hour treatment period.

"This is the same chemical that's used in flea collars on your dog," Bloomberg added. "You wouldn't want to chew on a flea collar, and you shouldn't chew on the tree."

Dan Janison is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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