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Monday, September 21, 2009

Predatory wasp gives early warning of beetle infestation


Written by Sharon Oosthoek, CBC news


"A centimetre-long wasp is poised to become a lead investigator of potential infestations by emerald ash borers, a beetle that is destroying swaths of trees across eastern North America."

"Researchers at Ontario's University of Guelph say Cerceris fumipennis — a wasp native to the region — can determine in as little as half an hour after leaving its nest in search of prey whether the invasive beetles are in the area."

"Traditional sleuthing involves peering into treetops where beetles congregate, or hanging sticky traps. But both are costly and finding the beetles can take days, weeks, or even years if the infestation is in the very early stages."

"Yet the earlier an infestation is discovered, the fewer trees have to be cut down or injected with expensive pesticides to stop the beetles' spread."

"Now some U.S. forest managers in New England and New York state are pressing this black-winged wasp into service, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is seriously considering following suit."

"This is a brand new program," says Colleen Teerling, an entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, which started using Cerceris fumipennis this summer. "A year and a half ago, nobody had even heard about this wasp in the U.S."

"While the emerald ash borer has yet to spread to Maine, officials there are monitoring its progress carefully."

"The shiny green beetle has claimed more than 25 million trees in Ontario, Quebec and 12 American states since being discovered in the Windsor area in 2002. The beetles, which arrived from Asia in packing materials, kill ash trees by destroying the water- and nutrient-conducting tissues under the bark."

"This borer seems to stop at nothing," says Mark Widrlechner, a horticulturist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "And it seems the ash tree has no genetic resistance to this pest."

"Widrlechner heads a national program to collect ash seeds so they can be reintroduced once the devastation is over. He has seen first-hand the beetles' toll and worries about areas where ash trees represent up to 40 per cent of the forest canopy."

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service estimates that if the current rate of infestation continues, it could cost the forestry industry between $20 and $60 billion US. In addition, the cost of removing and replacing ash trees along urban streets could amount to $7 billion US over 25 years."

"When University of Guelph entomologist Steve Marshall started looking into the issue several years ago, the extent of the threat was just becoming clear."

"In 2006, he recruited master's student Philip Careless to see if the wasps could be used as an early warning system. While they don't kill beetles in sufficient numbers to control an infestation, Marshall suspected the wasps might just "provide a natural and very low-cost approach to monitoring for emerald ash borers."

Marshall's earlier research showed the wasp feeds on jewel beetles, including emerald ash borers. But no one had ever tried to move wasp nests to areas at risk of beetle infestations to see whether they could be used as mobile surveillance units.

"So Careless spent the past three summers working with the CFIA to perfect a technique for digging up earthen wasp nests at night, when the females remain inside, and driving them to areas with a high risk of beetle infestation."

"Careless, who has since graduated but continues to work with the CFIA on the project, found the wasps reoriented themselves the next morning and ventured out to find jewel beetles to bring back to feed their larvae."

To read the remainder of this article please click on this link:

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2009/09/15/f-wasps-emerald-ash-borers-biosurveillance.html

source of image of Female Cerceris with an emerald ash borer:http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/fhm/pages/images/clip_image002.jpg

Here is some additional information about Cerceris fumipennis :

"The wasps are most often found nesting in open areas of hard-packed sandy soil surrounded by woody habitat suitable for their buprestid beetle prey. Ontario colonies are associated with somewhat disturbed sites compacted by human activity such, as baseball diamonds, parking areas, infrequently used roads, roadsides, foot paths and the soil around campfire pits."

Cerceris fumipennis is distinguished by five conspicuous characteristics:

It is large, about the size of common yellowjacket wasps.

It has dark smoky, blue/black wings (i.e. fumipennis)

The wasp's body is predominantly black except for a few yellow markings.It has a conspicuous, single broad creamy yellow abdominal band (Fig. 4).

Females have three creamy yellow patches between the eyes (Fig. 5); while makes are marked with two yellow triangles abutting their eyes (Fig. 6).

source:http://www.cerceris.info/identification.html

Here is a link to a fascinating short video about Cercersis fumipennis:http://www.rkwalton.com/wasps/cefu.html


Here is some more information about Cercersis fumipennis:

Cerceris fumipennis is a solitary ground-nesting wasp. Each lone female constructs and attempts to maintain a single subterranean nest for the duration of the flight season. Her solitary nest is in close proximity to others, forming a neighborhood or informal colony of nests. The nest’s entrance is easily visible, marked by a small circular mound of earth. Each nest is composed of a single entrance hole which leads to subterranean cells. Like many crabronidae and sphecid wasps, C. fumipennis females mass provision for their cells before laying an egg in them. Adult females provision their cells with beetles of the family buprestidae.

When hunting for buprestid prey, the maximum foraging range of the wasp is estimated at 2 km with an estimated average flight distance of 750 meters from the nest. Once prey has been found, a female wasp will typically attack a target beetle by alighting on it, climbing over it, and grabbing it by the thorax with her mandibles before inserting her stinger into the base of the beetle’s leg (in the membrane of the coxal joint, a gap in the buprestid’s armour) and injecting a paralytic venom. Once at the nest entrance or in the burrow, the female wasp will sometimes re-sting poorly paralyzed prey in the same joint.

Within minutes of placing the final paralyzed beetle into its subterranean cell the adult wasp lays a single hotdog-shaped egg along the beetle’s mesosternum. Prey beetles are paralyzed, not killed, ensuring that each beetle will remain fresh until the wasp larva can begin feeding upon it. After the egg is laid, the completed cell is detached from the burrow as the female wasp backfills the access with 3 – 6 cm of soil.

Once one cell is completed the wasp begins work on the next cell by excavating in a new direction off the main burrow. Most cells (approximately 5 – 12, but up to 24) are constructed 7 – 20 cm below grade with the egg, larva and pupal stages all developing within the confines of the single nest. In Ontario, the eclosion, which equals the duration of time spent in the brood cell, is about 10 months.

Emergence dates and speed of the life cycle vary across the wasp’s broad distribution. In Ontario, the flight season typically begins the last week of June and continues until early September. Emergence dates and duration of flight season can be influenced by droughts, which could postpone emergence or shorten the flight season.

source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerceris_fumipennis

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The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.