Spotting a Southern Pine Beetle infestation

Published: Oct. 2, 2018 at 6:44 PM EDT
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Landowners with pine trees on their property know all too well how important it is to protect against Southern Pine Beetles.

The species extends across the southeastern United States and can cause millions of dollars in damage.

The beetle is smaller than a grain of rice. Unlike most pine beetles which only attack trees that are sick or dying, the Southern Pine Beetle is also capable of attacking healthy pine trees. This makes it a problem the Florida Forest Service has targeted for decades.

"Maybe 10 thousand of them might actually go into a healthy tree and attack that healthy tree at one time," said Forester Dave Conser of the Florida Forest Service. "If you can imagine being stuck by 10 thousand needles at one time, we'd be in trouble."

Conser said different types of pine trees are more susceptible to the Southern Pine Beetle, like the loblolly pine. Loblollies have more of a bend and are a favorite host of the Southern Pine Beetle. Landowners with loblollies or slash pines can replant with long-leaf pines to protect against the species.

"With the long-leaf pine, what we're looking at is the tree that's more resistant to pine beetles and other insects or diseases," Conser said.

Mary Shea owns property just outside Newberry. She clear-cut around 16,000 slash pines to make way for long-leafs.

Replacing slash or loblolly pines with long-leafs can also benefit the surrounding environment.

"I feel like I'm joining in with other people and places that are doing similar things. I'm not alone," Shea said.

Conser added there are specific signs landowners can look for to see if their trees are infested with Southern Pine Beetles, as opposed to typical pine beetles.

"You can actually diagnose which beetle is in your tree by the kind of pitch tubes or balls of sap that come out of the tree," Conser said.

An infestation of the Southern Pine Beetle will produce balls of sap in the cracks of the tree bark, while other pine beetles will produce balls of sap outside of the bark itself.

Pitch tubes from Southern Pine Beetles are also found only down in the bark cracks from head high and up on the tree. They are about the size of pennies and occur by the thousands, according to the Florida Forest Service.

Any other species of pine beetles are not considered dangerous. Tan colored sawdust at the base of the tree indicates Ambrosia Beetles and mean the tree is dead.

Wood Borers will produce crunching sounds, which also indicate the tree is dead or dying.

Pictures below show the pine beetle and the balls of sap produced.