Emerald Ash Borer: The “Crown Jewel” of Deforestation

By, Benjamin Delin,  John Panny, and Madi Palat

The emerald ash borer looks like it should be found in the jewelry store at Tiffany’s with its majestic green color. Still, it has a very ugly side regarding its effects on our suburban and forested environments. Native to Asia, the emerald ash borer probably arrived in the United States on wood packing material transported by cargo ships or airplanes from Asia in 2002. These insects were first introduced to Michigan but have now spread through most states east of the Rockies.

Emerald Ash Borer CC Some Rights Reserved USDA

Similar to a truck hitting an unfortunate bird, Emerald ash borers are known for demolishing all Ash trees in their way across nearly the entire United States. The question is, why exactly do Emerald ash borers love ash trees? The reason lies in how the tree helps out female Emerald ash borers with protecting her eggs! When the mother lays her eggs within the cracks in ash bark, the eggs hatch. Because the cracks are too small for other predators to attack the baby borers, the babies can thrive, protected by their tree home. When the eggs hatch and enter the larval stage, the emerald ash borers feed under the bark of the infested trees, which significantly affects both nutrient and water flow within the trees. As a result, the trees practically starve, which eventually leads to death within 3-5 years of the ash borer moving in.

In the Lehigh Valley, emerald ash borers pose severe threats to the millions of ash trees within the area. As of 2014, over 12% of the ash tree population in Pennsylvania was reduced due to these infestations

Pennsylvania has taken significant steps to slam the brakes on the damage from the emerald ash borers. According to the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, three effective solutions include tree removal, chemical control, and biological control.  Tree removal ultimately stifles population growth, while biological control contributes to finding ash species resistant to Emerald Ash Borers. The chemical control uses insecticides on ecologically significant trees.

Even if steps are being taken to mitigate the Emerald ash borer and its environmental effects, the question remains why they are so widespread. The answer is the same as how there continue to be more and more humans, and that is that they reproduce! An Emerald ash borer completes one life cycle every one to two years. Between June and August, the female will independently lay her eggs on the crevices and cracks of a tree, where about two weeks later, the larva emerge and begin to tunnel between the layers of the bark and the tree. They make elaborate tunnels throughout the Ash trees, their favorite snacks, and about a year later, emerge as adults. For the Ash Borer to exit the trees, they tend to leave exit holes in the truck of the trees. This exit hole displays a unique feature used to distinguish Emerald ash borers from other native borers. According to research done at Ohio State University, when the Emerald ash borer exits, these holes are distinctly D-shaped and are about the width of a pencil.

The emerald ash borer fills the tunnels it makes with frass, the fancy term for insect poop. Having dug these tunnels through the tree, the Emerald ash borer has killed its home. A different and native ash borer produces the same D-shaped holes as the ash borer. However, this insect only lives in small branches and is smaller.

We must ask ourselves, why should we even care about this? If you enjoy watching professional baseball, then you should be concerned about this. Baseball bat manufacturers, such as Louisville Sluggeruse it to make their top-of-the-line wooden bats. Ash bats have been used for nearly every significant MLB hitting record: Hank Aaron’s home run record, Ty Cobb’s career hits record, Joe Dimaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, and the list goes on. Imagine if these players did not have Ash to hit with–would any of these feats have occurred? Additionally, ash wood is also needed for furniture, bonfires, electric and acoustic guitars, and boats –among other things. Life would be much different without that chair in your kitchen or without a guitar solo to blast in the car!

The insects will not just disappear overnight, and the best practices to mitigate their damage to our trees will change. As beautiful as they are, emerald ash borers seem to have a repulsive personality.  I hope you never have to meet one of them in perso

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