Asian longhorned beetle 'our worst nightmare'

Matt Lynch

Less than 2 inches in size, the Asian longhorned beetle is still plenty big enough to send a shiver down the spine of local arborists.

"This is our worst nightmare," said Rolf Briggs, president of Tree Specialists Inc. in Holliston, after hearing about a beetle infestation in Worcester. "It's a frightening thought because it could be moved in piece of firewood from Worcester to Wellesley in a heartbeat."

The beetle, shiny with black spots and exceptionally long antennae, bores holes into trees where it deposits its eggs. The holes allow diseases and other insects to enter the tree, which eventually dies from either the beetle or disease.

Worcester City Manager Michael O'Brien said local, state and federal officials are beginning a long process to identify infested areas and eradicate the bugs, which are virtually impervious to pesticides.

O'Brien said the only known location is in 12 trees in the northwest part of the city along West Boylston and Brooks streets, including Kendrick Park.

Officials have set up a 1.5 mile radius the beetle's maximum flight distance around the area.

"The Asian longhorned beetle tends to stay in a tree for its life cycle, unless there is an overpopulation of beetles or the tree dies," said O'Brien. "From that standpoint, they're not very mobile. Then again, they are an insect and don't know what boundaries or city limits are."

Officials first discovered the beetles in Worcester last week after a resident took a photo and contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture about an unusual insect.

O'Brien said the USDA believes the beetles have been in Worcester for about five years. Officials have not determined specifically how the beetles got to Worcester, but they often arrive in the United States in wood packing on international cargo shipments, he said.

It is too early in the study for nearby communities such as Hudson or Marlborough to be involved, said Kristen Tikonoff, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

"They are only in Worcester as of right now," she said.

O'Brien said a local team has already begun a survey of trees, and a USDA team is expected to arrive Aug. 18. Over a period likely to be about four years, officials will survey the area to find any other infestations and inoculate trees that are not infested.

The Asian longhorned beetle was first discovered in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1998 and has since been found in New Jersey and Chicago. The Worcester discovery is the first New England sighting, officials said.

Because the beetle spends most of its life deep in the trees, contact insecticides are ineffective and the only definite method to eradicate the beetles is to cut and chip or burn infested trees, according to a USDA fact sheet on the department's Web site.

"We hope people understand this may involve private property but is required to address and control the problem before it becomes a commonwealth problem or a New England problem," O'Brien said.

Matt Lynch can be reached at 508-490-7453 or

MetroWest Daily News