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Keep your eyes open for the Asian longhorned beetle

Asian longhorned beetle
Have you seen this beetle? If so, the USDA wants you to tell them.

There’s a tree killer on the loose.

It’s called the Asian longhorned beetle. It has a shiny black body with white spots, and really long antennae.

It’s not known to be in Michigan yet, but the pest has invaded Ohio. So officials want you to keep your eyes open.

Rhonda Santos is with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

She says we should be on the lookout for the beetles in our yards and community spaces.

“It’s a rather large insect, so its body is about an inch, inch and a half,” she says. “It’s harmless to humans and pets, so you can actually try to capture it if you see it. The insect can fly too, so just keep that in mind."

If you see the beetle, capture it and then freeze it, she says. This preserves the insect so researchers can identify it. You can also take a picture of it.

But even if you don't see actual beetles in the trees, Santos recommends looking for round exit holes.

Credit USDA
Round exit holes are another sign of the beetle.

“They’re a little bit smaller than a dime but large enough to put a pencil in — perfectly round,” Santos says. “They look like drill holes or bullet holes, and so those can be seen right on the trunk of the tree or even on the branches.”

Dying parts of a tree’s canopy or falling branches could also indicate beetle infestation, Santos says. So can a tree changing color now — earlier in the season than it normally would, she says.

And unfortunately, the beetle is not a picky eater.

“The beetle actually attacks twelve different types of trees and all the species within,” Santos says. “So one of its favorites is maple. Others are birch, willow, elm, ash — the list goes on from there. But when you think of maple, it’s not just sugar maples, which are one of its favorites, it’s red maples, its silver maples. So it’s got a wide appetite for our nation’s trees.”

Credit USDA
It's thought that the Asian longhorned beetle found its way to North America in solid wood packaging material.

And that’s not a good thing. Michigan has faced big consequences from similar invasive species in the past, like the emerald ash borer. That insect wiped out many of Michigan's ash trees.

Right now, officials are fighting infestations of the Asian longhorned beetle in Ohio, Massachusetts and New York.

“The biggest concern is that the insect would just continue to attack more and more trees,” Santos says. “And certainly in the northeast, and even in Ohio and Michigan, there are a lot of trees. And we have a lot of industries that depend on those trees, such as nursery stock, timber, maple syrup production. But not only that, also the damage to the property owner and the property. We wouldn’t want to see anyone injured from one of these trees falling.”

If you think you see signs of the Asian longhorned beetle, you can call the USDA at 866-702-9938 or report it online.

It's a hitchhiker

Santos says the best thing you can do isavoid moving firewood. The beetles can hitch a ride in that wood and you can accidentally introduce them someplace new. Here's more from the USDA:

No one knows for sure how the ALB got to North America from Asia. However, it’s likely that the beetle traveled concealed in solid wood packaging material that was shipped from overseas. Since this discovery, APHIS published an interim rule in 1998, requiring all solid wood packaging material from China be completely free of bark and live plant pests and also be treated with either preservatives, heat or fumigation prior to arrival in the United States. As of 2005, this rule is now in effect for all hard wood materials being imported from every country in the world. ALB can also be spread domestically, mainly by contaminated firewood. People can unknowingly transport the beetle many miles.

*This post has been updated.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.