Illinois Outdoors

Mike Miller, chief naturalist at Forest Park Nature Center, talks Tuesday about the importance of monitoring emerald ash borer traps, such as the one suspended from an ash tree along Mossville Road. The destructive beetle has been found in the Chicago area as well as LaSalle County.

Beetle mania spreading

June 26, 2008 at 09:01 AM

PEORIA — There’s a new killer in central Illinois that potentially could claim the lives of 130 million victims throughout the state.

The emerald ash borer, which kills any ash tree in its path, hasn’t yet been spotted in Peoria, but discovery of the invasive beetle in Peru has area officials worried.

“I don’t like to alarm people, but I think it will eventually get here,” said Forest Park Nature Center manager Mike Miller. “At this point, we just have to slow down the process and get as educated as we can in the meantime.”

Hundreds of purple boxes have popped up in ash trees along central Illinois roadways, attracting the attention of not only bugs but also drivers. The boxes, about the size of a microwave, are covered in an oil that attracts the emerald ash borer, as well as a sticky surface that traps any bug that lands on them.

“Basically, they are monitoring devices,” Miller said of the boxes, which have been planted throughout the area during the past few weeks by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

The invasive, metallic green beetles are native to Asia and burrow under the bark of ash trees, cutting off nutrients. First found in Detroit in 2002, the pesky insects have made their way around the Midwest at an alarming speed. Scientists are unsure how they came to North America, where the trees have no defense system.

LaSalle County is the farthest west the emerald ash borer has been located, forcing officials to quarantine much of northwest Illinois, reaching as close as 30 miles from Peoria. Firewood and ash trees may not be transported outside the quarantined area, and violators can face a $500 fine.

During the 1950s, millions of elm trees throughout Illinois were killed by Dutch elm disease, and ash trees were planted to replace them. If the emerald ash borer makes its way outside the quarantined area, entire forests may be devastated, said Julian Heminghous, emerald ash borer outreach coordinator for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“Any tree is pretty valuable,” she said. “And ash trees are very prevalent throughout Illinois.”

Aside from their ecological importance, ash trees are used in the construction of many common goods, such as baseball bats and furniture, Miller said. If they are wiped out by emerald ash borers, there would be economical as well as ecological consequences.

Tree owners are encouraged to notify the Department of Agriculture if the bug is spotted. However, the beetles are easily mistaken for other insects that can also cause damage to ash trees.

Illinois Outdoors

Heminhous said there are two tell-tale signs that the emerald ash borer has made its home in an ash tree. The beetle make lots of small, D-shaped holes in the bark when they leave the tree, and they make S-shaped designs under the bark as they eat the tree.

“They are something tree owners should be aware of,” Heminghous said. “They populate exponentially every year, so we need to find them in their early stages and see if we can’t save some of these nearby trees.”