Beetle Discovered by GFC - May Pose Threat to Georgia Trees

MARCH 9, 2005--Georgia Forestry Commission personnel recently warned that an exotic insect, the Ambrosia Beetle (Xyleborus glabratus), may threaten widespread tree destruction if the insect spreads. The beetle was discovered in Savannah’s Port Wentworth area by Commission personnel.

Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) sources said the beetle may have been established in the area since 2002 when three adult specimens were trapped. In 2003, Red Bay trees began dying in Georgia and South Carolina near the discovery area. In early 2005, GFC and South Carolina Forestry Commission officials identified the newly discovered ambrosia beetle as the primary cause of Red Bay tree mortality. Red Bay trees grow in Georgia’s Coastal Plain and provide fruit for song birds, turkey and quail.

“Recent reports indicate that the islands of Skidaway and Hilton Head have been hit especially hard – with maybe more than ninety percent of the Red Bay trees lost,” said James Johnson, GFC Forest Health Coordinator. “There is no effective treatment or spray to control these insects.”

Johnson said there are many native ambrosia beetles in the United States that have caused only slight tree damage. “There has been no widespread damage of healthy trees in the forest and only minor damage to landscape trees,” Johnson said. “However, the destructive and spreading potential of this particular ambrosia beetle is unknown.”

Some insects target only a single species of tree. Johnson said this may be the case with Xyleborus glabratus. Entomologists and pathologists from various agencies and universities are currently investigating sites where trees have been killed. Results show only Red Bay trees have been killed over a 40-mile radius from the Savannah port. Counties in the radius include Chatham, Bulloch, Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh, and Effingham.

For further information contact James Johnson at the Georgia Forestry Commission (706) 542-9608 or jjohnson@gfc.state.ga.us.