Better Get Ready ‘Cause Here Come the Bugs!

Unless you’re the Sun-Times’s Michael Sneed, you were horrified this year by the Asian long-horned beetle infestation, which will lead to the deaths of hundreds of north-side trees, particularly in Ravenswood. Sneed used half a July column to scoff: “I feel badly for those people fearing the loss of their huge silver maples and yellow-green honey locusts. Really, I do,” she sniped. “But I can sure think of a lot more serious things to worry about. Like the jerks, creeps and weirdos who hide behind our trees.”

Oddly, Sneed was right about one thing: there are worse things than the Asian long-horned beetle. And some of them are coming our way.

Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar)

Europe. Completely defoliates trees. Accidentally released in Boston by an amateur entomologist. Has eaten huge chunks out of Appalachian and Ozark forests. Now in 17 states; well-established in Michigan and moving toward Illinois. Transported by wind and when egg masses attach to firewood, tents, outdoor furniture, boats. Pesticides work only temporarily.

Formosan Termite (Coptotermes formosanus)

China, Japan, and Taiwan. Chews up buildings for breakfast. Lunch and dinner too. Arrived in a Houston shipyard in 1965, now well-established in major southern cities. Estimated property damage so far: $1 billion. Inhabits every building in New Orleans. Nests underground in huge colonies of up to ten million insects. Attaches to anything wooden but spreads slowly. Another El Ni–o and mild winters could make Chicago a destination. Pesticides ineffective so far.

South African beetle (Aethena tumida)

South Africa. Takes over bee colonies, feeding on honey and stored pollen. Bees abandon infested hives, where honey ferments and bubbles from combs, smelling of decaying oranges. Discovered in Florida last May. Hides in soil imported from South Africa. Pesticides still being tested for effectiveness.

Imported Red Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta)

South America. Feeds on just about any crop; real danger is murderous desire to sting. Very aggressive–in large numbers, can kill livestock, pets, and humans. This summer, stung to death 23,000 trout in the Guadalupe River in Texas. First discovered in Alabama in 1930s, having arrived via South American cargo ships. Big problem throughout the south, and moving north. Attaches to soil, farm equipment, baled hay, straw. Not hard to kill, but numbers make eradication difficult.

RED-BACK SPIDER (Lactrodectus mactans hasselti)

Australia. One bite causes redness, swelling, sweating, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, swollen glands. Not here yet, but get out the welcome mat: travels easily in crates, just like the Asian long-horned beetle. Can go a long time without air and doesn’t need water to survive. Resistant to most pesticides.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Rick Mosher.