Bark beetles, members of the Scolytidae family, are small insects that in ideal situations help the course of nature by selectively removing damaged or diseased pine trees. Although very small in size, ranging anywhere from one-tenth of an inch to one-fourth of an inch in length, the Southern pine beetles, indigenous to the Southeast United States, can cause damage in the millions of dollars not only to trees but to shrubs and bushes as well.
Instinctive behavior of the pine beetle leads the insects to seek and infest damaged, distressed or overly mature pine trees, which benefits the entire ecosystem by eliminating unhealthy trees. Once an infestation occurs, however, the beetles begin the cycle of reproducing and will move on to other nearby trees, regardless of age or condition of health. Sometimes infestations become so severe that entire forests are threatened, with wood and/or fiber producing grounds taking the brunt of the damage.
Bark beetles can also damage local landscaped areas. Some of those species include:
Cedar and Cypress beetles, which attack arborvitae, cypress, and redwoods.
Red Turpentine beetles, which feed on larch, spruce, pines, and white fir.
European Elm beetles, which affect elm trees.
Shothole Borers, which attack fruit trees.
The damage to trees, regardless of species, begins when the beetles find a host and climb to mine the inner bark of branches, twigs, and even large trunks. Once mining is initiated, a material much like sawdust can be seen in bark crevices, and sometimes may be found on the ground beneath the tree. One indication of bark beetle presence is the appearance of small holes bored into the wood, many times accompanied by sap weeping from the hole.
Because healthy trees are much less likely to be attacked, providing good care for vigorous growth is essential in keeping bark beetles from your property. There are several steps that can aid in the natural prevention of infestation.
*Planting trees in the proper place is the first step of prevention. If choosing a species that requires little water, for instance, be sure to plant in an area that is dry. Take advantage of your local extension office for the absolute best advice on the certain types of trees you choose for your landscape.
*Once you have established that your trees or shrubs are well suited for the chosen area, prune, water, and fertilize as necessary.
*While keeping in mind the requirements for your choice of tree, and caring for it accordingly, remember too that a healthy tree with good water pressure may be able to ward off infestation by pushing the beetles back out with either sap or the flow of water.
*If you do find evidence of infestation by way of holes bored into the bark, consult either a pest control company or tree expert. By the time holes are found, it is almost always too late to save the tree, but by consulting with professionals you may learn of options to save other trees before the insects migrate, helping to keep your landscape in healthy condition for future planting and growing seasons.