Friday, December 6, 2013
By JOHN RICHARDSON
The Maine Forest Service said Tuesday it is investigating what appears to be a widespread infestation of hemlock woolly adelgids, an invasive insect that kills eastern hemlocks, in Kennebunkport and the surrounding area.
The agency also plans to release beetles in York next week in hopes they eat the adelgids and slow their spread in southern Maine.
Woolly adelgids, barely visible brown/black bugs, exude a woolly substance and appear at this time of year as white masses on the underside of twigs. The eggs and juvenile ''crawler'' stage bugs can be transported by migrating birds, squirrels, stormy weather and humans brushing up against the trees. The adelgids kill the trees by gradually sucking their sap.
The pest is native to Japan and has been expanding its range through the eastern United States for more than 50 years. It has been highly destructive on the East Coast to south of Maine.
Woolly adelgids were found in Kittery, York, Eliot, South Berwick and Wells in 2003 and 2004. ''There are areas in southern Kittery and York where we've seen die-back in forest trees and actual mortality in understory (younger) trees,'' said Allison Kanoti, a forest service entomologist.
The insect's spread north and into Maine's interior is believed to be limited by cold winter temperatures, but the southern coast is clearly vulnerable, Kanoti said.
State entomologists found the pests in Saco last summer and then received reports that they were infesting trees in Kennebunkport.
Surveys to determine the extent of the infestation in Kennebunkport, Kennebunk, Arundel, Biddeford and Saco began in mid-November, when the tell-tale woolly masses became easier to spot. They have, so far, been confirmed in Kennebunkport, and the infestation is described as widespread but light.
Next week, forest service staff will go to York to release about 500 Laricobius beetles, a species that eats adelgids. Entemologists hope the beetles help slow the spread of the adelgids. ''There's really no way to stop them,'' Kanoti said.
Kanoti said reports from Maine residents are critical in trying to find and assess infestations. To report the presence of woolly adelgids, contact Kanoti at 287-3147 or email@example.com.
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: