Long Island’s first 2016 infestation of a lethal tree-eating beetle was discovered last month, when a West Babylon resident noticed the beetle on town property and called agricultural authorities.
The Asian longhorned beetle — first spotted in New York in 1996 in Brooklyn — has destroyed more than 23,000 trees in New York State, including on Long Island, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It’s believed the beetles came to the United States through packing wood at the nation’s ports. Adult females lay eggs inside hardwoods such as maple, birch, elm, willow, horse chestnut, ash and poplar trees. The larvae grow and chew through the wood. When they become adults, they burrow a smooth exit hole through the tree and fly away. Infested trees can endanger people and property when they weaken and branches break or fall.
Rhonda Santos, a spokeswoman for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the USDA, urged residents to inspect their trees now — August is Tree Check Month — because adult beetles are most often discovered in warm weather, particularly in August.
The beetle, native to Asia and known for its long antennae and black body with white spots, was first spotted near Amityville in 1996 and has since spread to Babylon, Islip and the Massapequas. It doesn’t move far on its own, but the transporting of wood — such as firewood — can expand an infestation.
“Our first line of defense is really educating the homeowners and the public,” said Matthew Roach, a supervisory tree climber for the USDA in Amityville.
The Islip infestation was deemed eradicated in 2011. But in Amityville — where an infestation felled a beloved 200-year-old Chinese elm in May 2000— beetles continue to be found. In 2014, state and federal authorities expanded the quarantine area — where movement or transportation of wood is regulated by federal and state authorities — to areas north of Amityville, including West Babylon, South Farmingdale and Wyandanch, up to the Long Island Expressway. The expansion more than doubled the quarantine area to 48 square miles. Infested trees must be chopped down and burned to limit the contamination.
On July 23, Santos said a West Babylon woman captured a beetle on 18th Street on a tree that belongs to the Town of Babylon.
Soon after that report, officials found another beetle on that tree and discovered six other infested trees within a one-eighth-mile radius — three on residential property, one on the Southern State Parkway and two in a nearby cemetery — in July and August.
The trees will be removed after the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets completes its bid process.
Officials discovered 113 infested trees in 2015 and 360 in 2014 in the Amityville quarantine area.
“We’re on the downslope,” Roach said. “We have made major progress and we should be moving toward eradication in the next few years.”
A representative from the Town of Babylon could not be reached Thursday for comment.
To report an Asian longhorned beetle, call 866-702-9938 or visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/pests-diseases/asian-longhorned-beetle/report-it.