Releasing beetles to save hemlock trees

Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 5:38 PM EDT
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MEXICO POINT STATE PARK, New York (WWNY) - A small predator could be key to protecting part of the north country.

Cornell University forest entomologist Mark Whitmore just released a small predator beetle to feed on hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that attacks hemlock trees. It’s all in an effort to save the hemlocks.

The small predator’s name is Laricobius nigrinus or Lari for short. It’s native to the Pacific Northwest region of the country.

The St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management teamed with Cornell University and others to release 2,000 of them at Mexico Point State Park in Oswego County on Thursday.

With the release of the small hungry predator, Whitmore says it’s now a catch-up game.

“When you think about how many adelgids there are in the stands, they’re little tiny things, there’s literally millions and millions right now, and here we are releasing 2,000 of these beetles, so it’s going to take a while for the populations to build up, but eventually they will,” he said.

Whitmore says this is the perfect time of the year to release the Lari beetle.”

“In the springtime when the adelgid begins to lay its eggs, it’s when the predator lays its eggs, so the larva or the immatures of the predator actually feed on the eggs of the adelgid,” he said.

Hemlock trees are the fourth most common trees in New York, making the adelgid a dangerous pest.

“The size of a sesame seed, but it can take down an entire forest. It threatens our hemlock populations, and the Tug Hill region has an abundance of hemlock trees in it,” said Megan Pistolese-Shaw, SLELO PRISM education coordinator.

State park officials say hemlocks are vital to forests’ ecosystems.

“Everything from ferns and vegetation, providing shady spots for those but also things like salamanders and small mammals, things that depend on these forests to survive for habitat. So what we’re really doing is not only saving the hemlock trees and the forest but all the things that then depend on them to survive as well,” said Mike Serviss, regional conservation project coordinator.

Officials say the hemlock woolly adelgid has the ability to take down an entire forest by feeding on and weakening hemlock trees - causing mortality within 5 to 7 years if left untreated.