Southern Pine Beetle Found on Long Island

Southern Pine Beetle

Southern pine beetle
Southern pine beetle

What is Southern Pine Beetle (SPB)?

Southern pine beetle, or SPB, is a bark beetle that infests pine trees. In southern states, loblolly, shortleaf and Virginia pines are attacked, but all pines are potential hosts, including pitch pine, found in several areas in New York State. The beetle is small, only 2-4 mm in length, about the size of a grain of rice, and is red-brown to black in color.

Where is SPB located?

The infestation in New York was found in late September of this year in Suffolk County on Long Island. Infestations have been identified in portions of the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, Connetquot River State Park, and the Henry's Hollow Pine Barrens State Forest. Surveys are currently underway and additional infestations in the area may be discovered. The beetles most likely colonized Long Island from the New Jersey, Pinelands, where it has been very abundant in recent years. This is the first recorded find of SPB in New York State.

Where does it come from?

SPB is native to the southeastern United States but has been expanding up the Eastern Seaboard in recent years. Warming of extreme winter temperatures has most likely contributed to this range expansion.

How does it behave in the South?

SPB has always been the most destructive pest of southern pine forests. From 1999-2002, an outbreak of the beetle in the southeastern US resulted in over one billion dollars in loss for the timber industry, according to the US Forest Service. SPB populations naturally rise and fall. The beetle can persist for years at very low numbers, sometimes going unnoticed. At other times, however, the population can explode, rapidly killing pine trees across the landscape. This switch between high and low population numbers is influenced by the availability of dense pine stands, the number of natural enemies, the types of fungus present, tree defenses, and changes in climate.

What does it do to trees?

pine beetle galleries/tunnels under the bark
Tunnels (galleries) left by adult beetles

The adult beetle enters the tree through crevices in the bark and then creates S-shaped tunnels in the cambium tissue, just beneath the bark. This disrupts the flow of nutrients, killing the tree in typically 2-4 months. Most trees resist the initial attacks by secreting resin that can "pitch out" some adults and slow the entry of others, but trees almost always die as their defenses are overwhelmed by thousands of attacking beetles.

What trees are affected?

All pine trees are susceptible but pitch pine is the preferred host in the northeast. In addition to pines, hemlocks and spruce may also be affected in highly infested areas.

What are the signs of an infestation?

  • Pitch tubes, or popcorn-shaped clumps of resin on the exterior of the bark
  • Shotgun patterned holes on the exterior of the bark
  • S-shaped tunnels under the bark
  • Pine tree that have recently died; characterized by reddish-brown needles

What is being done?

pitch tube with pine beetle
Pine beetle entering a pitch tube

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