State agencies ask residents to check backyards for invasive insects
Your favorite backyard tree, your swimming pool, or your garden lights could be hiding invasive insects.
That’s why the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Invasive Species Council, and Department of Natural Resources are asking people to take part in National Tree Check Month this August by checking common hotspots for out-of-place critters.
“August is a really great time to look for invasive insects. … In August, a lot of different species are boring out of the tree and are fully-grown adults out in the environment,” said Justin Bush, executive coordinator of the Washington Invasive Species Council.
He pointed out that a variety of different invasive species could be in your yard and garden without you even realizing it. Insects are attracted to light and water, so hotspots to check include trees, outdoor lights, and standing water, such as birdbaths, dog bowls, and swimming pools. When checking the pool, don’t forget to look at the filter and the skimmer.
Last year, the discovery of a dead Asian giant hornet in an outdoor light in Blaine led to the subsequent discovery and eradication of an Asian giant hornet nest.
If during your checks you find any insect that does not look like something you have seen before, report it to the Invasive Species Council’s website or via the council’s app, which is free for iPhone and Android.
“We always say, if you see something that you don’t recognize, snap a photo and file a report,” Bush said.
It is best to get a photo of the insect next to a common item like a pen or coin for scale, and preferably with a white background so the insect can be easily seen. If you can catch it, store it in a Ziploc bag. However, if you think you see an Asian giant hornet, do not approach it — instead, report it to the state Department of Agriculture immediately.
While residents of Whatcom County should keep an eye out for the 2-inch orange hornets, people around the rest of the state are not likely to see them. But there are still plenty of other invasive insects to be on the lookout for, such as wood-boring bugs. Bush said that harmful wood-dwellers like the emerald ash borer are making their way across the country, leaving dead trees in their path.
While the emerald ash borer, which has a narrow, metallic green body that is about a half-inch long, has not yet been seen in Washington, Bush fears it is only a matter of time — which is why a single spotting in a backyard could make a real difference.
“An early report of a new problem invasive species can prevent hundreds of thousand, if not millions of dollars in damages to our trees as well as costs to do control and mitigation,” Bush said.
Another insect to watch out for is the Japanese beetle, which has already been found in Washington. This scarab beetle has a kind of copper-colored shell with white spots.
Just as important as rooting out invasive insects on your property is making sure they never get to Washington in the first place. You should never transport firewood across the state or across multiple states, but instead buy it in the county where you will be using it; the transportation of firewood is the main way the emerald ash borer is spreading. You also should not take plants or soil on road trips.
Even when traveling by plane, make sure the folded clothing in your suitcase is not harboring an invasive insect.
“When you’re traveling, it’s always best to take a few minutes to make sure that you’re not bringing insects with you,” Bush said.
In Washington, citizen science efforts have led to great success with catching invasive insects. Last year, half of the Asian giant hornet sightings were made by residents on the lookout. Bush is hopeful that this year, even more citizen scientists can find invasive bugs.
“We’re asking you to take 10 minutes to check your property, your pool, the trees in your community, and to help us look for potential problem species,” he said. “With invasive species, if you don’t immediately find a problem and then respond to it, it may be something that we deal with for numerous years and may not be something that we can ever fully eradicate.”