According to Cal Fire, by the end of spring in 2016, there were 66 million dead trees in California, due to drought and bark beetles. In 2014, that number was closer to 3 million.
Bark beetles are a normal part of forest and tree life. Healthy trees generally protect themselves from bark beetles by producing sap that pushes the beetles out. However, when trees become water stressed due to years of drought, they are weakened and unable to fight back. Many residential trees are facing the same water stress due to reduced irrigation, making them susceptible to attack by bark beetles. According to the USDA, bark beetles kill more trees than wildfire in most years. Trees are a big investment and weakened trees can destroy homes and threaten the safety of your family. Find out how to prevent bark beetle infestations to protect your trees.
Bark beetle species
There are over 600 species of bark beetle in North America, with 200 varieties found in California. Normally, bark beetles attack conifers, but they can also be found in redwoods, oaks, CA buckeye, English laurel, and fruit trees. The most commonly found bark beetles in California are the western pine beetle, engraver beetles, Jeffery pine beetle, Ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, mountain pine beetle, and red turpentine beetles. Two of the 20 new invasive species, the red-haired pine bark beetle and the Mediterranean pine engraver, are now attacking the many Mediterranean pines planted throughout the Golden State. Bark beetles are smaller than a grain of rice. They can be red, brown, or black. With a magnifying lens, you can see that their antennae are jointed, with a club shape at the end. Larvae are tiny, off-white grubs that may have a brown head.
Damage caused by bark beetles
When new adults emerge, they leave a buckshot pattern on the bark surface of infested branches or trunks. Bark beetles chew tunnels through the inner bark, damaging the phloem and the cadmium layer, robbing the tree of valuable nutrients and moisture. As bark beetle larvae feed, they also infect the tree with a fungus that slows sap production.
Bark beetles are also vectors for disease. As they move from one tree to the next, bark beetles expand their own infestation along with whatever disease they may be carrying. Bark beetles are responsible for spreading the devastating Dutch elm disease. Bark beetles are attracted to open tree wounds, such as those that occur when pruning.
Identifying bark beetle infestations
Different species of bark beetle attack different areas of their host trees. Whichever species is active, boring dust mixed with sap is usually the first visible sign. When infestations are suspected, peel off a portion of bark near a boring hole. If bark beetles are present, a winding series of tunnels will be found. Eggs may be present in some of the galleries. Many tunnels will be filled with frass (bug poop). Dead or damaged wood may also be seen. Another common sign of bark beetle infestation is called ‘flagging’, which means the ends of twigs die.
Bark beetle management
Drought-weakened trees that become infested with bark beetles are usually dead within 3-4 weeks.Since bark beetles are protected under a tree’s bark, pesticides and insecticides merely kill off the beetle’s natural enemies, making matters worse.
To prevent bark beetle infestations, it is necessary to keep trees healthy enough to protect themselves. Proper irrigation is critical. Proper irrigation means soaking the soil to a depth of 2-3 feet at a rate appropriate to the size, age, and variety of tree. You can learn more at the UC Page on Irrigation. These tips can also help:
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!