Officials confirm infestations of Asian Longhorned Beetle on Johns Island, Hollywood

South Carolina has been invaded by an invasive species making its home in the hardwood trees of...
South Carolina has been invaded by an invasive species making its home in the hardwood trees of the Lowcountry. Clemson University has confirmed infestations of the Asian Longhorned Beetle on Johns Island and in Hollywood.(Live 5 News)
Updated: Aug. 28, 2020 at 1:50 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina has been invaded by an invasive species making its home in the hardwood trees of the Lowcountry. Clemson University has confirmed infestations of the Asian Longhorned Beetle on Johns Island and in Hollywood.

Steven Long is the assistant director for Clemson’s Department of Plant Industry, and is also the state plant regulatory official overseeing the fight against the beetle.

“This was the first discovery of this invasive insect in South Carolina ever,” Long said. “We are finding adult beetles. We are finding a lot of egg sites and a lot of exit holes.”

The burrowing bugs attack trees to lay eggs, leaving behind holes the size of a human finger.

“Those holes weaken the structural integrity of the tree and then a wind storm comes along - i.e. a hurricane - and those trees just get broken apart,” Long said.

To determine the extent of the infestation, a specialized team from the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been called in to help. On Wednesday, survey teams from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) combed the forest and climbed the trees in the Hollywood in search of the beetles. Much of the evidence is gathered at the tops of trees.

“When we are going out on these delimitation surveys, we are primarily focused on identifying those preferred host trees, which are maple trees, willows . . .,” said APHIS’ Kimberley Dean, acting program director of the Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication Program.

The easiest way to spread the beetle to a new area is by transporting the wood, particularly firewood, from an infested area. Biologists speculate the beetle arrived in the United States through wood pallets used in shipping from Asia.

“Sometime soon we will create a quarantined area where we don’t want to see any wood or woody debris moving outside of that regulatory area,” Dean said.

A few dead maple trees here and there may not seem like a big problem, but there are ecological and economic concerns.

David Jenkins is the forest health coordinator for the South Carolina Forestry Commission. He says maples are not a large percentage of the forest, but they do work as a bulwark against certain invasive plants and play a role in the economy.

“It’s used in veneers. It’s actually used for energy, pulpwood, paper and so we will see an impact if this thing [the beetle] moves through,” Jenkins said. “But even bigger than that is the ecological impact. If it moves through the state, it’s really a gateway to get into other states.”

The beetle can be found in three other states right now – Ohio, New York and Massachusetts. While maples are not the money makers they are in the northeast, shipping is.

“We have international trade concerns and, quite frankly, national trade concerns as well,” Long said. “We have to protect those industries and protect the trees in our landscape.”

Two other state had infestations but where effectively eradicated. However, South Carolina is truly a test case since it is the first southern state to have the bug. Long says the Lowcountry environment could make life easier for the pest. For reference, the life cycle of the beetle in northeast can take upwards of two years.

“Here in South Carolina, researchers are speculating that that life cycle could be completed in 8-10 months.” Long said. “What we could end up seeing in South Carolina is much more damage happening from the beetle in a shorter period of time.”

This is an eradication effort and the USDA is creating an environmental assessment specifically for South Carolina. You can find it here. The public comment period is open until Sept. 18.

They are also asking anyone who sees an Asian Longhorned Beetle or evidence of one to report it to Clemson University by emailing invasives@clemson.edu or by calling the beetle hotline at (864) 646-2140.

Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.