For an insect smaller than a grain of rice, this new little invader is possibly going to have a massive impact on the agriculture industry in the southeast. The female redbay ambrosia could spell doom for avocado trees and other laurel species plants if left unchecked.
According to researchers, the little insect has killed nearly three hundred million redbay trees and could devastate the Florida avocado industry. The beetle isn’t native to North America, and was first found in Georgia in 2002. It’s since spread across the southeast and further, impacting Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
“It’s a species from Asia that was likely introduced through the port of Savannah, Georgia,” John Riggins, an associate professor of forest entomology at Mississippi State University told Fox News. He believes the bug was probably brought to the United States inside imported wood.
Riggins warns the insect could also threaten other tree species used for cooking. “It brought along with it a species of fungus that causes a disease called laurel wilt. This disease impacts trees like avocados, sassafras, redbay and some other native species that we have.”
When a tree or bush becomes a host for the beetle, the female burrows deep inside of it and begins spreading the fungus, which is deadly to the trees and bushes. The host will then start to die in about a month, and offsprings and clones of the beetle use the fungus as a food source.
The beetle also reproduces both asexually and by mating with males, including it’s own offspring, which leads to rapid spread of the creature. A majority of the bugs detected at different locations were identicle to others found elsewhere.
The spread of the redbay ambrosia beetle could have a major economic impact on the avocado industry. California accounts for the overwhelming majority of U.S. production of avocados with over $295 million in value with Florida at just over $19 million in production of the popular fruit. The beetle invaders could also jump the border into Mexico, which grows the majority of the world’s avocados