Little beetles can cause big problems

by Dr. William Lester, UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County

If you drive around Hernando County you will notice quite a few dead pine trees. This is because we have had an outbreak of Ips pine engraver beetles this spring and summer. This beetle pest occurrence isn’t nearly as bad as the southern pine bark beetle, which can cause major losses of pine trees across the entire Southeast US; but if you are the one suffering the loss and expense of removing a dead pine tree, this is little comfort. The main areas in our county that have been affected are Spring Hill, WeekiWachee, areas west of US 19 and along Cortez Blvd.

There are three species of Ips beetles, along with turpentine beetle, native to Florida; and they all feed on stressed or damaged pine trees or trees that are growing too close to each other. Local pines were stressed by the drought we suffered during late winter/ early spring. Some signs to look for on your pine trees are small holes in the bark, the presence of sawdust on the outer bark, and small balls of sap, or pitch tubes. If you peel the outer bark off of the trunk you will see small tunnels in the wood. The needles will all turn brown (usually very quickly) and hang on the tree. The bad news is that when the tree gets to this point, nothing can be done to save it. Often the seemingly healthy pines around this tree have also been attacked by beetles and they will be lost too. Ips beetles reproduce rapidly and infestations spread outward in a circular fashion, causing “hot spots” in forests and neighborhoods.

All pine tree species growing in Hernando County are susceptible, but the most affected this year is the sand pine (Pinus clausa). I have visited with several residents in neighborhoods affected by this outbreak and both trees in wooded lots and cared for trees in landscapes have been equally attacked.

These types of beetles do go dormant in the winter, so they won’t be around damaging pine trees forever. But they are more likely to return in an area previously affected. There is no effective chemical control for these beetles. By the time beetle damage is noticed it is too late to save the tree. Preventative injections of insecticides do exist, but they must be performed before the tree is attacked and can be very expensive.

For more information about any insects you may find on your property, shrubs or other plants call or stop by our office (352-754-4433) 16110 Aviation Loop Drive, Brooksville, 34604, weekdays from 8 to 5; or the Master Gardener nursery at 19490 Oliver Street (behind the Hernando County fairgrounds). The nursery is open from 9 to noon Wednesdays and Saturdays.