CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Nearly a year has passed since forestry officials first started working to eradicate the Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB), an invasive pest that is killing trees in a nearly 75 square mile quarantine zone down Savannah Highway.

This infestation in portions of Charleston county is the only known population of this beetle in the state, and one of only 4 areas regulated for the invasive insect in the country.

“At this point we have just over 5,000 trees that we know about, roughly half of those have been removed,” says Dr. David Coyle, a professor of Forest Health and Invasive Species at Clemson who has been leading the charge to remove this pest from the Palmetto state.

“So we’re making pretty good progress, but the problem is that a lot of the trees that remain standing that are infested are in areas that are much more difficult to get to.” 

The only treatment once a tree is infected with ALB is complete removal and destruction.

Each infected tree, marked for death with an orange dot, must be cut down and destroyed but many fall on their own as “This thing basically makes swiss cheese out of the inside of the tree. The branches fall off, the stems fall off, essentially the tree just falls apart because this thing is just eating wood all the way through there.” 

After feeding for months as a larvae, the Asian Longhorned Beetle then emerges as a grown adult- boring a perfectly round hole to go on to the next host. Thankfully this big black beetle isn’t too mobile, unlike another invasive species that’s making headlines recently: the spotted lantern fly. Thankfully this devastating pest hasn’t yet made it to South Carolina but is spreading like wildfire throughout the Northeast. Coyle believes that it will eventually make its way south, saying, “I think lantern flies are always going to be in North America at this point. I don’t see us ever getting rid of it. I have a different on Asian Longhorned Beetle. I do think we can eradicate it from North America- it’s just going to take a long time.” 

Photo Credit: David Coyle

This likely years-long mission begins by eliminating them here- possibly with other insects joining in on our side of the fight, “There’s a little wasp that’s present throughout Eastern North America, it’s not anything non-native it’s something we already have here. They have shown that it will readily attack ALB in a lab setting. Next year we’re gonna try to see if we can use them to combat some of these Asian Longhorned Beetles.”

“The best thing we can get from people is to report anything that could be ALB. It’s better to err on the side of caution and have us check it out.”

dr. david coyle, state extension specialist for South Carolina

While David Coyle and his colleagues at Clemson and the U.S. Department of Agriculture continue to clear this infestation, they urge all Lowcountry residents to keep an eye out just in case any beetles make it out of the quarantine zone- which thankfully looks to be holding strong with no other sightings reported outside the area as of October 2021.

For more information on the signs of an Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation- watch our previous “Moment of Science” segment here. If you believe you may have ALB in your yard or neighborhood, email or you can call the Clemson Department of Plant Industry at (843) 973-8329.

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson