Meet the beetles. The invasive exotic ones, that is. There is the goldenhaired bark beetle, the six-tooth bark beetle, the Mediterranean pine engraver beetle and the most dreaded of them all: the Asian long-horned beetle, which arrived on American shores a decade ago the way many foreign threats do, hiding in wood pallets.
At the Polly Hill Arboretum, collections and grounds manager Tom Clark and collections management intern Alyssa Janilla have been on guard for the unwelcome arrival of the voracious bugs by participating in a USDA monitoring program.
“It’s really an early warning system against some of these exotic wood-boring and bark beetles,” said Mr. Clark. Visitors wandering the Polly Hill grounds may be curious when they stumble upon a strange system of funnels dangling from an arboretum maple. The unusual contraption is irresistible to beetles, lured as they are by the unmistakable chemical scent of diseased or stressed trees.
Unlike the moronic, lumbering June bug, familiar to Islanders for their annual early summer rite of crashing into screen doors, many of the scarier beetles are actually quite small, some barely covering the head of a pin. When Ms. Janilla clears the bottom of beetle traps every two weeks, she sends the specimens to a USDA entomologist in Connecticut, the highlight of whose workday is opening a soggy packet full of dead beetles.
“There are really very few people in the country that are experts in identifying these beetles,” Mr. Clark said.
Although the Vineyard has thus far avoided the blight of beetles that has swept through New York and now plagues Worcester County, poised perilously close to Vermont and the $15 million maple syrup industry, Mr. Clark said the Island’s geographical isolation does not make it immune.
“A lot of the ways these things are spreading is through firewood,” he said. “I know that a lot of the firewood on the Vineyard comes from off-Island.”
In New York the emerald ash borer was discovered at a KOA campground.
“Mmm, S’mores and emerald ash borer,” said Mr. Clark.
The enfant terrible of coleopterology (the study of beetles), however, is the Asian long-horned beetle.
“With very good reason really,” says Mr. Clark. “That’s kind of the poster child for the nasty invasive exotic insects because it’s so destructive. We’re in a pretty good situation because most of our forests are oak and beech and those are well down the list of preferred hosts, but it’s a bad character.”
Mr. Clark is more concerned about a bug that is unlikely to appear in the antifreeze bug soup at the bottom of the USDA tree traps but is nonetheless undoubtedly searching Google maps at this moment trying to locate Martha’s Vineyard: the viburnum leaf beetle. The bug is capable of devastating the shrub, viburnum, that is both part of the natural Vineyard flora as well as a popular landscaping component. As Mr. Clark ominously intoned:
“When this insect gets here, it’s more a matter of time than anything else, it’s going to do some serious damage.”