The Battle Of The Bugs: Inside the Fight Against Emerald Ash Borer

Updated: 12/13/2013 6:25 PM
Created: 12/13/2013 4:16 PM
By: Josh Rosenthal

The saying goes, 'you've got to fight fire with fire.' Well, here's a new Minnesota version of the phrase -- 'you've got to fight bugs with bugs.'

"This is a really important first step," explained Minnesota Department of Agriculture Invasive Species Specialist Monika Chandler.

Two years ago, the Department of Agriculture unleashed tiny stingless wasps in the hope they'd defend the state's billion or so ash trees from the dreaded emerald ash borer. Now for the first time since, they're seeing signs that the good guys in this battle of the bugs are winning.

"What we've been able to do now is document that they are attacking emerald ash borer in the field," said Chandler.

Researchers actually go out and find trees with emerald ash borers. They then release wasps nearby. The wasps lay their eggs inside the emerald ash borer larva, and eventually, the new wasps eat the larva. Proving that though -- is another problem all together.

EAB Biological Control Coordinator Jonathan Osthus is one of the guys who actually has to go out and find the bugs.

"It's kind of like finding a needle in a haystack," he said.

That's because the bugs aren't just small, they're really small. Also, Osthus simply uses a small saw, peels back bark on random trees, and looks for signs of the bugs.

As he pointed out, "we know it's an emerald ash borer gallery by the tight 'S' shaped curves."

Even though this is a major step in the fight against emerald ash borers, Minnesota still has a long way to go. Researchers say there are a lot of unknowns, like whether the wasps will reproduce in high enough numbers to really control the problem.

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