It’s like something from a horror movie: a six-legged invader arrives in New York, stowed away in wooden shipping crates from Mainland China. Once ashore, the creatures fan out, looking for food. The beast has no natural predators here, and is immune to all known poisons. It is tough, it is tenacious, it is borderline indestructible…and it’s hungry. The target of its hunger are hardwood trees, and it attacks them without mercy, killing them from the inside out.
The invader is not a genetically enhanced mutant, or an escaped government super-agent gone rogue—it’s a bug. Specifically, the Asian Longhorned Beetle, or ALB. The areas already infested include New York City, Long Island, Massachusetts, and, yes, New Jersey. The known infestations have been destroyed for now, but that doesn’t mean that the Asian Longhorned Beetles won’t return like the evil creatures in a horror movie, for your HOA’s trees.
The Asian Longhorned Beetle—anoplophora glabripennis, if you’re an entomology buff—hails, as the name suggests, from eastern Asia. The Chinese call it the sky oxen beetle, and sometimes it’s referred to as the starry night beetle on account of its distinctive markings. It’s relatively large—over an inch long—with a black shell highlighted by irregular white blotches and knobby, segmented antennae that can be twice as long as its body. It’s relatively handsome, as insects go, but its food of choice is deciduous hardwood trees—especially poplars, willows, elms, birches, and especially maples—and that dietary habit has disastrous effects on the trees themselves.
“The beetle grows from egg to larvae to adult,” explains Bill Carolan, owner of The Exterminator, a pest control company based in Toms River. “The larvae are what eat all the wood and kill the trees.”
During the summer breeding season, says Carolan, the female beetles use their mandibles to carve out pits in a host tree’s bark, where they lay their eggs. A single beetle creates up to 50 such depressions in the tree—a swarm of beetles can riddle a tree with damaging, moon-like craters.