A Tale of Two Pests: APHIS’ Response Contrasts Greatly

spotted lanternfly

Holly Raguza, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

I have not written previously about two insects that threaten fruit and forest trees in the U.S. – the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) and the velvet longhorned beetle (Trichoferus campestris). APHIS has adopted strangely – and unexplained – different approaches to the two.


Spotted Lanternfly – Pennsylvania Jumps In; APHIS Provides the Funding

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) was first detected in southeast Pennsylvania in autumn 2014. It is native to China, India, and Vietnam. What was known then about its host range came from experience in Korea, where it had also been introduced. Officials were alarmed because the lanternfly is considered a pest of grapes and peaches – both are major crops in Pennsylvania (Spichiger Update; see reference below).

Currently, outbreaks of the spotted lanternfly are in 74 municipalities in six counties  in the southeastern part of the Commonwealth – covering a total of  829 square miles. In the more than two years since its detection, the spotted lanternfly has not spread to the rest of the Commonwealth or to other states. Authorities therefore believe that the state’s quarantine is having an impact (Spichiger Update & pers. comm.).

Pennsylvania’s authorities believe the lanternfly utilizes about 80 species of plants, especially during the early stages of its development. A monitoring program managed by Dr. Gregory Setliff of Kutztown University (see reference below) has developed a list of 24 putative hosts – including maples, birches, hickories, dogwoods, beech, ash, walnuts, tulip tree, tupelo, sycamore, poplar, peaches and plums, oaks, willows, sassafras, basswood, and elms. Setliff also found that the lanternfly will penetrate into woodlands; it does not stay on the edges.

Adults strongly prefer the widespread invasive species tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). In fact, it might be necessary for adults to feed on Ailanthus before laying their eggs. However, oviposition can occur on not just a wide variety of plants but also nearly any hard surface (Spichiger).

Officials are optimistic that an approach using trap trees will eradicate the spotted lanternfly. They remove most Ailanthus, then apply a systemic pesticide to the remaining trees to kill adult lanternflies when they feed (Spichiger).

Fortunately, this insect is conspicuous. As a result, 90% of citizen reports of sightings have proven to be accurate (Spichiger). This contrasts greatly with phytosanitary officials’ experience with Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer, and other tree-killing pests.

Scientists in both Pennsylvania and China are looking for natural enemies.

The entire program in Pennsylvania has been funded through a series of Farm Bill grants from APHIS (Spechiger pers. comm.). These began in FY2016, right after the 2014 detection. By FY2017, Farm bill funding  totaled nearly  $2 million; it went to a myriad of entities to:  study lanternfly lifecycles and host preferences; find possible biocontrol agents and chemical treatments; and – especially – for outreach and education. Nearly $1.6 million of these funds went to state agencies in Pennsylvania.


Velvet Longhorned Beetle — States Limp Along; APHIS Support Minimal

velvet longhorned beetle

Christopher Pierce, Bugwood

In contrast to the spotted laternfly, populations of the velvet longhorned beetle (VLB Trichoferus campestris) appear to be more long-standing and more widely spread. It was first found in 2010 in Utah. Now, it has been detected 15 separate times in Quebec and 11 U.S. states, according to Wu et al. 2017 and websites listed below. States specifically mentioned by sources include Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Most are of single or a few beetles – although detections are sometimes repeated over several years – e.g., in Minnesota.

In contrast, the outbreak in Utah appears to be established and growing. The number of beetles detected has exploded from 4 in 2010 to 1,863 in 2015 .

Like so many other invaders, this beetle is known to be native to East and Central Asia.

The host range is still being studied. Hosts are thought to include more than 40 genera, including apple; cherry and peach; maple; birch; mulberry and paper mulberry; beech; ash; honey locust; mountain ash; willow; and cut wood of spruce and pine.

Like other woodborers, the velvet longhorned beetle has often been intercepted in wood packaging (see my earlier blogs. There have been 29 interceptions of the Trichferous genus over 3 years. Some of the newly established populations – such as Utah’s outbreak – are tied to specific shipments in which wood packaging was insect-infested (Wu et al. 2017).

VLB has also been detected in imported rustic furniture – probably because the beetle is apparently much more tolerant of tunneling in dry wood than other Cerambycids.  In some pieces, insect activity was not detected until 18 months after the furniture was purchased. In 2016 a Minnesota homeowner discovered a beetle emerging from bark-covered furniture that she had purchased more than a year earlier. Furniture from this shipment was shipped to at least 10 other states [Mark Abrahamson, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, pers. comm. February 16, 2017]. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture, APHIS, and other State departments of Agriculture are working with the furniture seller to recover and destroy all infested furniture.

Detection of the velvet longhorned beetle has been hampered by the absence of a good lure for traps.  Dr. Ann Ray of Xavier University in Ohio has isolated and identified a possible lure but needs another field season to determine the right amount of pheromone for each trap. While Dr. Ray’s earlier work had been funded by APHIS through its Section 10007 program, APHIS chose not to fund the final stage of testing in the FY2017 Farm Bill grant program. Indeed, no VLB programs were funded this year.

This contrasts sharply with APHIS’ continued engagement with the spotted lanternfly.

The extent of damage to fruit trees caused by the velvet longhorned beetle has been difficult to determine (Ray; see reference below). Perhaps for this reason, APHIS has not adopted an official stance on whether the beetle is “established” in the United States. Thus, five years after the insect was detected for a second year in Utah, the agency cannot make up its mind how great the threat is and what the agency’s response should be.

If the velvet longhorned beetle turns out to be highly damaging, eradicating it will have become increasingly difficult during the years that APHIS has pondered what to do.


See also http://ag.utah.gov/documents/Insect_Velvet_Longhorn_Beetle.pdf



Ray, Annie. Evaluation of lure and trap design for monitoring the velvet longhorned beetle Trichoferus campestris. XXVIII USDA Interagnecy Research Forum on Invasive Species January 10 -13, 2017.

Setliff, Gregory P. Investigating the host range of the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) in southeastern Pennsylvania. XXVIII USDA Interagnecy Research Forum on Invasive Species January 10 -13, 2017.

Spichiger, Sven-Erik. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Update on spotted lanternfly program in Pennsylvania. XXVIII USDA Interagnecy Research Forum on Invasive Species January 10 -13, 2017.

Wu,Y., N.F. Trepanowski, J.J. Molongoski, P.F. Reagel, S.W. Lingafelter, H. Nadel1, S.W. Myers & A.M. Ray. 2017. Identification of wood-boring beetles (Cerambycidae and Buprestidae) intercepted in trade-associated solid wood packaging material using DNA barcoding and morphology


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Posted by Faith Campbell

New Secretary of Interior Pledges to Support Invasive Species Efforts — Let’s Ask USDA Secretary to do the Same!

Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke

During his confirmation hearing Ryan Zinke, nominated to be the new Secretary of Interior, committed to several senators that he would explore ways to better manage invasive species on federal lands – especially in National parks – and to strengthen the National Invasive Species Council (NISC).

Mr. Zinke is currently a Congressional Representative from Montana. Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI) pressed him on invasive species issues during the hearing, focusing on the threat to the Great Lakes of carp and other aquatic species. Also, Senators Al Franken (MN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Mazie K. Hirono (HI) asked about invasive species in written questions submitted to the nominee.

Mr. Zinke answered most questions the same way:  He shares the Senator’s concern, especially since  Montana has significant invasive species problems. Also, he thinks it is critical that federal land managers be encouraged and empowered to be good neighbors in controlling invasive species in cooperation with adjacent private land owners. …  Specifically he wants to explore ways to implement the Early Detection Rapid Response Framework adopted by NISC in 2016.


* Sen. Franken included a single question on bioinvaders among a long list of questions on other topics. He mentioned the emerald ash borer as one example of a damaging invader in Minnesota. Senator Franken asked Mr. Zinke:

1) what steps he would take to enhance invasive species control on public lands

See paragraph above for Mr. Zinke’s answer.

2) whether he would enforce the Lacey Act and explore ways to strengthen it.

Mr. Zinke said he would enforce the law. He is aware that there is broad bipartisan frustration with the lack of an efficient process for listing injurious species under the Act. He would ask the Fish and Wildlife Service to recommend ways to improve its implementation. If legislative changes might be helpful, he would be pleased to have that conversation with the Congress.


* Sen. Manchin’s first question (!) asked how Mr. Zinke might strengthen NISC to help manage invaders across multiple types of land ownership. See Mr. Zinke’s frequent reference to his Montana experience above for his answer.


* Sen. Hirono asked five questions pertaining to invasive species! Her first question concerned steps to protect National parks (especially in Hawaii) from bioinvasion. Here, Mr. Zinke gave his usual response but added: “I am especially concerned that Hawaii’s unique flora and fauna are vulnerable to invasive species. I would not want to see invasive species push any of these unique plants and animals onto the Endangered Species list. Once confirmed, I will ask the National Park Service to present me with options for better protecting our national parks from invasive species.”


Ms. Hirono also asked about strengthening NISC. Mr. Zinke responded as follows: “…, I will explore ways to improve the operations of the National Invasive Species Council, and actively engage with the Secretaries of Commerce and Agriculture to get off to a strong start on this issue. … We also need to create a more effective linkage between the National Invasive Species Council policy operation in Washington, DC, and the on the ground federal land managers across the country who deal with invasive species on a daily basis…”


Also, Sen. Hirono asked for Mr. Zinke to help Hawai`i and other U.S. Pacific islands to counter the spread of invasive species through movement of military equipment. Mr. Zinke said he would work to enhance coordination with the Department of Defense and the Pacific island communities to reduce the risks posed by invasive species. … explore how we may implement the recent framework for early detection and rapid response …


Mr. Zinke also promised to work with Senator Hirono on several issues under Interior jurisdiction that are priorities for Hawai`i, among them invasive species.



What We Should Ask the new President & Congress to Do re: Invasive Species

While there are many opportunities for the Congress to strengthen U.S. invasive species programs (see my blog from December 31 here, the most important activity NOW is the confirmation of Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture. Contact your Senators and urge them to ask Governor Perdue how he will address invasive species challenges.

USDA Secretary nominee Sonny Perdue

Possible questions:

Q: How serious do you think is the threat to American natural resources from invasive (non-native) insects, pathogens, and plants? Can you suggest steps you would take to strengthen the efforts of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) aimed at controlling introduction and spread of such bioinvaders into the United States?

Q: The principal legal authority for preventing introductions of invasive plants and plant pests is the Plant Protection Act. The PPA provides strong authority but its implementation has been hampered by internal USDA decisions. How would you ensure that the Department corrects these problems and actively enforces its regulations aimed at ensuring the health and productivity of America’s plant resources?

  • In recent years, more than 20 previously undetected plant pests have been detected in the country each year. Hundreds of shipments of goods entering the country each year contain plant pests. What strategies would you promote to reduce the introduction, spread, and impacts of invasive species?

Q: Given the ever-tightening budget allocated to agencies responsible for addressing invasive species threats, what steps would you take to ensure that our country does not suffer waves of new invasions?

If you have a working relationship with your Senators and believe they understand the invasive species issue fairly well, you might want to suggest more detailed questions:

Q: As you know, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is responsible for preventing introduction and spread of plant pests.

  • In some cases, APHIS has been hesitant to use its authority to penalize importers which routinely receive shipments that violate plant pest (phytosanitary) regulations. [You might cite my blog from last week  which illustrates examples pertaining to wood packaging.] Will you instruct APHIS to use its legal authority to impose civil penalties to deter continuing violations?


  • Trying to prevent pest introductions by increasing the percentage of shipments that are inspected visually will not be effective in many cases. This is true especially with regard to one of the most important pathways by which plant pests are introduced – imports of living plant material such as nursery stock. APHIS began updating its regulations governing plant imports nearly four years ago, but the proposed new regulations have been not been finalized. Will you look into the reasons for delay and take steps to update these regulations to focus on pathway cleanliness rather than continue to rely on ineffective visual inspections?

Q: Urban forests across the country are under threat from a growing number of non-native or introduced insect pests. Examples include the emerald ash borer – now found in 27 states; Asian longhorned beetle – which threatens a large proportion of urban trees across the country; and polyphagous and Kuroshio shot hole borers – killing many trees in southern California.

Urban forests are at particularly high risk of infestation by non-native pests because they are growing near ports and other transportation hubs where such pests are first introduced. Furthermore, each individual tree in an urban setting provides important benefits in the form of shade, moderation of storm water runoff, abatement of air pollutants, enhanced property values, and neighborhood amenities.

  • Will you fully utilize the authorities under the Plant Protection Act to help ensure the health and productivity of America’s urban forests?
  • [If you have not already suggested the questions outlined above re: wood packaging and other pathways, you might suggest them in this context.]


The Secretary of Agriculture also oversees the Forest Service. Pertinent questions:

Q: Invasives are as great a threat to eastern forests as wildfires are in the West. Despite the growing damage and ecological destruction we are witnessing the budgets for research on strategies to minimize these bioinvaders’ impacts are actually falling. How will you work to provide solutions to this quandary?

As I said in my blog at the end of December, what is missing is a political demand for action – and support for necessary staff and funding. Agencies under the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior bear most of the responsibility for managing invasive species. As long as these officials are not being pressed by key Congressional committees, the media, and key stakeholders to take more aggressive and effective action to curtail species introductions and suppress established populations of bioinvaders, they will continue to focus their attention on issues that do generate these kinds of political pressure.

Posted by Faith Campbell

We welcome comments that supplement or correct factual information, suggest new approaches, or promote thoughtful consideration. We post comments that disagree with us — but not those we judge to be not civil or inflammatory.


Wood Packaging – Again! 11 years after ISPM#15, problems persist …


ALB pupa; Thomas B. Denholm, New Jersey Department of Agriculture; bugwood.org

As I have noted in earlier fact sheets and blogs, wood packaging (crates, pallets, etc.) has been a major pathway for introductions of highly damaging wood-boring pests since at least the early 1990s. (See Figure 2a in Aukema et al. 2010; reference given at end of blog.)


This rise in introductions followed the rapid increase in use of shipping containers – as described in Levinson’s book The Box (reference below). Levinson notes that shipping capacity increase fourfold during the decade of the 1970s, reaching 10 million tons in 1980. (See also my blog from August 2015 here). A second factor was the U.S. opening trade with China in 1979. Since in those years – before establishment of more sophisticated detection tools – a pest was often present for close to a decade before being detected, it is not surprising that detections of woodboring pests began their rise around 1990.


February 2017 marks 11 years since the international standard (ISPM#15) was put into effect by the United States and 17 years after the U.S. and Canada began requiring China to treat its wood packaging. Nevertheless, numerous shipments containing wood packaging that does not comply with the regulations continue to arrive at our borders – and to bring pests.


A study by scientists and economists (Haack et al. 2014; reference below) analyzed detection data from the U.S. and other countries in order to calculate the reduction in pest risk associated with wood packaging following adoption of ISPM#15. They concluded that one tenth of one percent of the wood packaging entering the U.S. after adoption of ISPM#15 still contained a tree-killing pest. This sounds like a small risk. However, the U.S. imported approximately 25 million shipping containers in 2013 – and presumably similar numbers in more recent years. It has been estimated in the past that wood packaging is used in just over half of these containers. Therefore, even if merely 1/10th of 1% of the wood packaging in these shipments contained a tree-killing pest, 13,000 containers harboring pests probably enter the country each year. That is 35 potential pest arrivals each day.


Interception records compiled by USDA APHIS and the DHS Bureau of Customs and Border Protection clearly show that wood packaging infested with pests continued to arrive in recent years – including in 2016.


Over a period of seven years – Fiscal Years 2010 through 2016 – CBP detected more than 20,700 shipments with wood packaging that did not comply with ISPM#15. While most of the non-compliances represented wood packaging that lacked the required mark showing treatment per ISPM#15, in nearly 5,000 cases the wood packaging actually harbored a pest in a regulated taxonomic group (see Customs presentation at the Continental Dialogue here).


Customs inspectors at 11 ports (listed at end of blog) have been sending intercepted wood packaging containing insect larvae to APHIS for study. APHIS has also sent to me its record of interceptions for the period FYs 2011 – 2016.


The APHIS interception database contained 2,547 records for insect detections. The insects belonged to more than 20 families. Families with the highest numbers of detections were Cerambycids – 25% of total; Curculionidae – 23% (includes Dendroctonus, Ips, Orthotomicus, Scolytinae, Xyleborus, Euwallacea); Scolytidae – 17%  (includes true weevils such as elm bark beetles); Buprestids – 11%; and Bostrichidae – 3%. Not all of the insects in these groups pose a threat to North American plant species.

piece of wood packaging with Cerambycid larva; detected in Oregon
piece of wood packaging with Cerambycid larva; detected in Oregon

The samples sent by CBP to APHIS are limited largely to the families Cerambycidae (the family containing the Asian longhorned beetle) and Buprestidae (the family containing the emerald ash borer). This dataset contains 1,068 insects, obtained over the period April 2012 through August 2016 from 786 separate interceptions of non-compliant wood packaging. The sample is not from a random set of ports – four of the seven entry points are on the Mexican border, and the proportion was even higher in the early years of the study.


The APHIS interception database reports pests detected in wood packaging from dozens of countries. The countries of origin with the highest numbers of shipments detected to have pests present were Mexico, China, Italy, and Costa Rica. These numbers reflect in part import volumes. The U.S. imports huge volumes of goods from both Mexico and China. (Our second largest trade partner is Canada; the U.S. and Canada have exempted wood packaging moving between the two countries from the requirement that it comply with ISPM#15. Neither country inspects wood packaging from the other country at even the low rate of inspection applied to wood packaging coming from Mexico or overseas.)


The CBP-APHIS database includes pests found in wood packaging from 39 countries, including 212 shipments from Europe; 130 shipments from Asia; and 341 shipments from the Americas – almost exclusively Mexico.


APHIS analysts point out that the pests from Mexico might pose a lower risk since some proportion of them are probably species shared between our two countries. (However, several woodborers from Mexico are killing trees in the U.S. – e.g., goldspotted oak borer, walnut twig beetle, and soapberry borer. These species are described briefly here. These insects were probably introduced to vulnerable parts of the U.S. in firewood rather than wood packaging.)


As always (see the briefs here as well as various articles by Haack and Cavey), imports of heavy objects are associated with wood packaging found to be infested with insects: metal and machine parts, tiles, decorative stone. Imports of fruits and vegetables rank high because of the large number of interceptions in wood packaging from Mexico.


Comparing the estimate by Haack et al. 2014 with the CBP data indicates that Customs is detecting about 6% of all pest-infested shipments. I do not believe that increasing the inspection workforce and effort will result in substantial improvement in this rate.


On average, 26% of infested wood pieces detected by CBP were found in wood that had been treated according to ISPM#15 requirements (if we believe the ISPM#15 stamp on the wood). Does this indicate fraud? Or is the problem accidental misapplication of the treatments? Or are the treatments less effective than hoped? APHIS researchers have found that larvae from wood subject to methyl bromide fumigation were more likely to survive to adulthood than those intercepted in wood that had been heat treated. Does this indicate that methyl bromide fumigation is a less effective treatment?


CBP staff reported that only about 30 import shipments (out of nearly 21,000 shipments found to be in  violation of ISPM#15 requirements) have received a financial penalty. CBP staff cite two reasons for the low penalty rate:

  1. USDA policy requires that an importer be caught 5 times in a year with non-compliant wood packaging before authorizing a fine; and
  2. APHIS has not designated SWPM as a high-risk commodity


What Can Be Done to Slow or Eliminate this Pathway?


Our goal should be to hold foreign suppliers responsible for complying with ISPM#15. One approach is to penalize violators. APHIS and Customs might

  • Prohibit imports in packaging made from solid wood (boards, 4 x 4s, etc.) from foreign suppliers which have a record of repeated violations over the 11 years ISPM#15 has been in effect (17 years for exporters from Hong Kong & mainland China). Officials should allow continued imports from those same suppliers as long as they are contained in packaging made from other types of materials, including plastic, metals, fiberboards …
  • Fine an importer for each new shipment found to be out of compliance with ISPM#15 in cases when the foreign supplier of that shipment has a record of repeated violations.


There would need to be a severe penalty to deter foreign suppliers from simply changing their names or taking other steps to escape being associated with their violation record.


At the same time, the agencies should work with NGOs and importers to promote creation of an industry certification program that would recognize and reward importers who have voluntarily undertaken actions aimed at voluntarily exceeding ISPM#15 requirements so as to provide a higher level of protection against invasive species that would otherwise potentially be introduced into the United States.


What You Can Do


  • Tell your member of Congress and Senators that you are worried that our trees are still being put at risk by insects arriving in wood packaging. Ask them to urge the new Secretary of Agriculture (Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia) to take the actions outlined above in order to curtail introductions of additional tree-killing pests.


  • Talk to your friends and neighbors & civic organizations about the threat to our trees. Ask them to join you in communicating these concerns to their Congressional representatives and Senators.


  • Write letters to the editors of your local newspaper or TV news station.


Use your knowledge about pests threatening trees in your state or locality in your communications!


Ports that have sent specimens to APHIS lab: Seattle, Long Beach, San Diego, Laredo, Hildago,  Houston, Miami, Port Everglades, Chicago, Detroit


 Aukema, J.E., D.G. McCullough, B. Von Holle, A.M. Liebhold, K. Britton, & S.J. Frankel. 2010. Historical Accumulation of Nonindigenous Forest Pests in the Continental United States. Bioscience. December 2010 / Vol. 60 No. 11

Haack, R. A., K. O. Britton, E. G. Brockerhoff, J. F. Cavey, L. J. Garrett, M. Kimberley, F. Lowenstein, A. Nuding, L. J. Olson, J. Turner, and K. N. Vasilaky. 2014. Effectiveness of the international phytosanitary standard ISPM no. 15 on reducing wood borer infestation rates in wood packaging material entering the United States. Plos One 9:e96611.

Levinson, M. The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger Princeton University Press 2008


We welcome comments that supplement or correct factual information, suggest new approaches, or promote thoughtful consideration. We post comments that disagree with us — but not those we judge to be not civil or inflammatory.


Posted by Faith Campbell