‘Superwasp’ threatens US forests with females capable of producing 1,000 offspring

A superwasp capable of producing 1,000 offspring threatens vast forests in North America, a new study has revealed.

The Sirex wood wasp (sirex noctilio) lays its eggs on pine trees in a mucus and fungus that are deadly to the host.

The species, native to Asia, Europe and North Africa, has already devastated the forests of New Zealand, South America and Australia.

Now the wasp, which can be as long as an inch and a half, threatens the pine forests of North America.

sirex wasp
The Sirex woodwasp lays its eggs in pine trees in a mucus and fungus that are deadly to the host.
Matthew Ayres/Zenger

In the United States climate, a single female would be capable of producing more than 1,000 offspring, 100 times more than in the southern hemisphere.

Zenger News obtained a statement from Dartmouth College on June 16 that said: “While a single female sirex wasp in Spain has the potential to spawn around 10 offspring in five subsequent generations, in North America each female could potentially produce 1,000 offspring. “.

The statement, referencing a Dartmouth College study, also emphasized that “nature’s defenses currently keep the insect in check.”

The Dartmouth College study, funded by the US Forest Service and published in the academic journal neobiotasays the United States needs to be constantly on alert.

The statement warns that the breed “has the potential to reproduce at rates 2 to 3 times higher in North America than in its native range in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.”

He continued: “While the wasp’s impacts have been limited so far, it could pose a threat under the right conditions as it spreads across its newly adopted continent.”

Flora Krivak-Tetley, a postdoctoral researcher at Dartmouth and first author of the paper, said: “Understanding why invasive species are destructive in some places and not in others gives us the tools to respond to them quickly.”

He added: “The Sirex woodwasp is perfect for exploring this question because its impacts on forests vary in different parts of the world.”

The statement explains: “Unlike yellow jackets and other common wasps, Sirex wood wasps eat wood instead of fruit and meat.

“The insect injects a fungus and a dose of poison into the trees to weaken and even kill them.

“They also lay their eggs in trees, where the larvae hatch and feed on wood predigested by the fungi.”

Krivak-Tetley said: “These wasps are cool and a bit different to the wasps many of us are familiar with.”

Krivak-Tetley, who conducted the research as a Ph.D. candidate at Dartmouth, added: “The larvae tunnel through tree trunks, mature inside the wood and emerge as adults. They don’t bite people, they bite trees.”

The Dartmouth College statement said: “The Sirex woodwasp is considered a minor tree-feeding scavenger in its native range. In those areas, natural enemies and the limited availability of suitable pine trees to serve as hosts keep it under control”. .”

But the study emphasized that the insect is capable of “killing a large number of trees and being expensive to manage in non-native areas.”

He gave the examples of New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina and other countries in the southern hemisphere, saying that they are places where the wasp “has no natural enemies.”

The statement says that “the invasive is responsible for major attacks on pine stands that were imported for commercial plantations.”

Sirex wood wasp in larval stage
Sirex noctilio, also known as the Sirex woodwasp, is seen here in the larval stage. The sirex wasp lays its eggs on pine trees in mucus and fungus that are deadly to the host, meaning forests could be threatened by the wasp’s mass reproduction.
Matthew Ayres/Zenger

They added: “Unlike other invasive insects that may have a range limited by sensitivity to temperature and other weather conditions, Sirex wood wasps are not restricted by extreme temperatures within their range. They are only restricted by the presence of predators. , competitors and host pine availability”.

Matthew Ayres, a professor of biological studies at Dartmouth and the study’s principal investigator, said: “This wasp will continue to expand its distribution in North America.”

He added: “Apparently it can tolerate the weather anywhere there are pine trees.”

The statement explains: “The invasiveness of the insect is exacerbated in pine forests that are overcrowded and short of water. Sirex wood wasps are also difficult to monitor, making them more difficult to control.”

The wasp was first detected in North America in 2004, according to the researchers, and “is believed to have entered the continent within wood packaging material used in shipping at a cargo port on Lake Ontario in northern North America.” New York State”.

The Sirex wood wasp then migrated throughout the northeastern US and parts of Quebec and Ontario in Canada.

“Non-native species arrive from distant lands all the time,” Ayres said.

“Sirex woodwasps that arrived from Europe found forests that resembled their homeland, but also included many of the same natural enemies, from nematodes to woodpeckers.”

sirex wasp
Sirex noctilio, also known as the Sirex woodwasp, was first seen in North America in 2004.
Flora Krivak-Tetley/Zenger

The study evaluated the impact of the sirex wasp in the northeastern US, comparing data with information about the species’ activities in its native habitat of Galicia, Spain.

The statement said: “According to research in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, the woodwasp has the potential to be 150 percent more productive in the areas studied in the US than in Spain. As a result, there is a greater potential for rapid population growth and localized outbreaks of the wasp in North America than in the insect’s native range.

“While a single female Sirex woodwasp in Spain has the potential to spawn around 10 offspring in five subsequent generations, in North America each female could potentially produce 1,000 offspring.”

Krivak-Tetley said: “When we first observed the Sirex woodwasp in North America, we said ‘oh no, we better get ready for this.'”

He added: “We’re not sure how it will go in other parts of the continent, but for the moment, nature has come together to defend against this wood wasp.”

Experts expect “the population to expand south into the ‘wooden basket’ states of the US, from North Carolina to eastern Texas, which contain large tracts of valuable fast-growing pine forests.” increase”.

The statement explains: “The western US, with pines already at risk from drought, fire and beetles, could also be susceptible to invasive species. The wild card is whether natural competitors and predators will keep them in check.” , or if the larger resource base will allow them to spread.”

Ayres said: “This wasp will continue to spread throughout North America and can be expected to eventually show up everywhere there are pine trees.

“The good fortune we have enjoyed so far with the Sirex woodwasp could change if the insect reaches areas with greater resource availability and fewer natural enemies.”

The researchers are now working to compare the ways in which wood wasp populations grow in the north and south of the country to “better understand the conditions that lead to shocking invasions.”

The study was authored by Flora E. Krivak-Tetley, Jenna Sullivan-Stack, Jeff R. Garnas, Kelley E. Zylstra, Lars-Olaf Hoeger, Maria J. Lombardero, Andrew M. Liebhold, and Matthew P. Ayres.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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