Scientists in Dorchester County Fight Bugs with Bugs - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Scientists in Dorchester County Fight Bugs with Bugs

Posted: Jun 07, 2018 8:58 PM Updated:
Courtesy: David Showalter & Michael Falk Courtesy: David Showalter & Michael Falk

SHARPTOWN, Md. - Scientists say it's beautiful but deceiving.

The emerald ash borer is a beetle smaller than a penny. Originally from northeast Asia, it was first discovered in Michigan back in 2002. Since then, it's been spreading rapidly across the U.S., killing off millions of ash trees. In Maryland, scientists say sightings of the emerald ash borer began about two years ago.

Those same scientists say they have a trick up their sleeve. In a boat near Marshyhope Creek and the Nanticoke River, you'll find Maryland Department of Agriculture entomologist Heather Disque. Next to her is a box of biological weapons ready to save the surrounding woodlands.

Disque says, if nothing's done, the tiny insect will bore into ash trees and choke them to death. Signs of the trees dying are already beginning to show.

"You're going to lose 60 to 70 percent of the canopy cover here, so it's fairly significant in this area," Disque said. "Some of these trees are showing signs of die-back."

But inside Disque's box is plastic cups filled with over 600 tiny parasitic wasps, called Spathius agrili. They're harmless to humans but a known killer of the Emerald Ash Borer. Disque opens up the cups, letting the insects fly off. The wasps will later use their tiny stingers to dig into trees and attach eggs to Emerald Ash Borer larvae. In time, the newborn parasites will feed and kill the larvae.

Matt Whitbeck, a biologist with Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, says it may be too late for some of the ash trees here.

"We really think it's going to be a heavy impact," Whitbeck said. "We know that it's not going to look the same and we know that we're not going to be able to preserve it in its existing state, but we want to be able to kind of smooth the transition as much as possible."

Whitbeck and Disque say, though the ash trees in the area will likely die, insecticides and replanting are some ways they're trying to slow the transition. With control over the Emerald Ash Borer population, they hope future generations of ash trees will be able to grow.

The Spathius agrili is one of three parasites Disque plans to release into the fall. In a couple years time, Disques says she'll return to the area to see if the population of the Emerald Ash Borer has declined or increased.

 

 

 

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