Small but Mighty: Southern pine beetle trapping underway

by | Mar 6, 2019

Although it is smaller than a grain of rice, the southern pine beetle is dubbed the ‘most destructive forest pest in the South’. Each year, the N.C. Forest Service tries to predict if there will be an outbreak of this native tree-killer by comparing the number of active southern pine beetle to its predator, the checkered beetle. Knowing if there is an increased risk of outbreak maximizes the preparedness for forest management. When it comes to the southern pine beetle, a quick response is crucial to minimizing damages.

But how do you search for an insect so small?

You have them come to you! Traps are set across the state that attract the beetles with a lure that smells like an unhealthy pine tree, the beetle’s favorite meal. This, combined with the tree-like silhouette of the trap, is irresistible to the southern pine beetle. Southern pine beetle and their predator fly into that trap and are trapped in a small cup at the bottom. From there, the beetles are counted and the numbers used to predict chances for an outbreak. Traps for this year are beginning to go up now.

The Southern pine beetle is considered the worst of the worst when it comes to forest insects. During attack, pine needles fade from green to yellow to red and dead. When an outbreak occurs, the beetles attack tree after tree, causing large patches of dead pines, called “spots.” The southern pine beetle can easily cause damages going into the billions of dollars. Not only do they quickly kill economically-valuable pine trees, but they are expensive to control.

Landowners and forest managers are encouraged to stay vigilant and reduce stand susceptibility to southern pine beetle by maintaining good stocking levels. Overstocked pine stands are more susceptible to beetle attack. By thinning a stand, one can reduce the likelihood that an outbreak will occur. The Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program is a cost-share program that aids landowners in thinning pine stands.

So, although it’s small, the southern pine beetle carries a big bite. Stay tuned for trapping results!

Funnel traps are used to trap southern pine beetle each spring. By analyzing the trap captures, we can predict what the population levels may be like for the coming year. Image: K. Oten, NCFS.