Southern Pine Beetles - Bluedot Living Martha's Vineyard (2024)

To: Bluedot Living

From: Adam Moore, Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation

Subject: Southern Pine Beetles

“If they could be on Nantucket, they could be on Martha’s Vineyard, too — no?”

So thought I after I received an email on May 15, 2023, from Emily Goldstein Murphy, Ph.D., research ecologist for the Nantucket Land Bank. Dr. Murphy had written me not because of my role at Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, but rather because I am a Massachusetts licensed forester. She was seeking help in preparing forest stewardship plans that would help the Land Bank prepare their properties for the eventual arrival of this devastating forest insect.

That morning, I asked my staff to bring any spots of beetle-killed trees to my attention. That afternoon, I returned to my Vineyard Haven office to find a two-foot long section of pitch pine bark on my desk. The smooth, concave surface of the inside of the bark bore a network of sinuous “S”-shaped curves — the tell-tale, serpentine sign of the southern pine beetle. Land Steward Elizabeth “Liz” Loucks had recalled seeing dead trees at the Phillips Preserve, and she had spent part of the day getting a closer look and retrieving a sample of bark.

The southern pine beetle, Dendroctonus frontalis, is an insect that is native to the pine forests of the eastern United States. As its common name implies, it has traditionally lived only in the southern states, but the warmer winters of climate change have enabled this beetle to move northward. It was first observed in the woods on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in about 2015, but until now, no outbreak had been observed.

In each glob, stuck in the sap, was a minute, black beetle – the southern pine beetle. This tree was infested, and the globs of sap, up and down the stem, were the tree’s effort to “pitch” out the beetle.

After examining the bark, I left my office and dashed out to the Phillips Preserve. The Phillips Preserve is a 69-acre conservation property of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation in Tisbury. The Preserve stretches from Northern Pines Road to Aunt Rhoda’s Pond, which is a bay on the northwest side of Lake Tashmoo. Army Road and the Road to Chappaquonsett both cross the Phillips Preserve.

I reached the section where Liz had noticed the dead trees and collected the bark. Sure enough, I found several trees that were already dead, and then found a living tree that I suspected to be infected with the southern pine beetle. Now, I had never seen the southern pine beetle before, or what it could do to a pitch pine, but this tree seemed to fit what I had learned. Up and down the stem were globs of orange and white sap. In each glob, stuck in the sap, was a minute, black beetle — the southern pine beetle. This tree was infested, and the globs of sap, up and down the stem, were the tree’s effort to “pitch” out the beetle.

Southern Pine Beetles - Bluedot Living Martha's Vineyard (1)
Southern Pine Beetles - Bluedot Living Martha's Vineyard (2)
Southern Pine Beetles - Bluedot Living Martha's Vineyard (3)

I took several photos. That night, I reported this find to the forest health program at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. DCR visited the Phillips Preserve on July 19, 2023, and confirmed that this was, indeed, an outbreak of the southern pine beetle. A week earlier, DCR had confirmed another outbreak of the southern pine beetle at West Gate Woods, a Nantucket Conservation Foundation property on Nantucket.

My next step was to mark the trees that were infested, and a buffer of trees around them, so that we could try to suppress the outbreak. This is recommended, as left unchecked, the beetles will reproduce exponentially — and kill a corresponding number of pitch pines. By this time we were learning of the power of this incredible insect. I spent one afternoon marking trees, only to return the following day, and notice that, somehow, I had missed a tree here, and another there. After a day or two of this, I realized that I had not missed these trees. Rather, the beetles were simply moving from one tree to another.

As we mapped this area for the Forest Cutting Plan that I filed with DCR, we measured the spread of the beetles. To our dismay, the beetles were moving at about 10 feet per day. What had been a small outbreak in a half-acre spot had quite rapidly spread to four acres in a very short time. Why were we not cutting the trees and suppressing the outbreak? We were not cutting because — due to the presence of maternity roosts for the endangered northern long-eared bat, there is a prohibition against cutting any trees between June 1 and July 31.

Southern Pine Beetles - Bluedot Living Martha's Vineyard (4)

Once the cutting prohibition passed, we began our suppression work. We hired Conor Hynes, a licensed timber harvester and the owner of Cape Cod Firewood. Conor went to work with a feller-buncher and grapple skidder — two pieces of forestry equipment that enable safe and efficient logging. In spite of our efforts, our suppression efforts could not contain the spread of the beetle. The beetles were moving from other infestations on neighboring properties. It was only the colder temperatures of the fall and winter that ultimately slowed them down.

During the winter we set up a portable sawmill at the Phillips Preserve. The larger sawlogs produced beautiful pitch pine lumber. This lumber is being used on the porch for the new Sheriff’s Meadow office in West Tisbury, and it is used to make desks and counters for the office, too.

We are now at work suppressing additional outbreaks at the Phillips Preserve, and thinning the forest so that the best, mature pitch pines might have a chance at surviving the outbreak. Thinning helps by increasing the flow of air around the crowns of the pitch pines. Beetles communicate by pheromone, and scientific research shows that thinning interrupts their communication, and offers a chance for the trees left standing. Forest stewardship plans and additional thinning operations and suppression cuttings are in progress for several other pitch pine forests owned by Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation.

For more information about any of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation’s work, visit

Southern Pine Beetles - Bluedot Living Martha's Vineyard (2024)


What is the best insecticide for southern pine beetles? ›

The pesticides that are most commonly used and labeled for bark beetle control have bifienthrin (commonly sold as Onyx), carbaryl (commonly sold as Sevin) or permethrin (commonly sold as Astro) as their active ingredient.

What are some interesting facts about the southern pine beetle? ›

Southern pine beetles like to infest many trees in an area and have been known to kill acres of trees in very short periods of time. An outbreak can be very harmful for many reasons, but dangerous specifically for Cape Cod because of the Pitch Pine Barren habitat that many species rely on.

What kind of damage can a southern pine beetle outbreak cause? ›

Obvious signs of infestation include white pitch tubes, running pitch, sawdust at the base of the tree, and many small emergence holes in the bark. Larvae chew curved or S-shaped galleries under the bark in the inner bark and cambium layer, and can girdle and kill the tree.

How to get rid of southern pine beetles? ›

Cut & remove.

This is your most effective option. Identify the most recently infested trees, where the pitch tubes are fresh and the crown is still green or just beginning to fade. Then cut and remove these, along with a buffer strip of healthy trees. Your buffer should be at least as wide as the height of your trees.

What time of year do you spray for pine beetles? ›

The only treatment that can be applied to the tree is preventative. This will protect the tree by killing the beetles before they infest the tree. Insecticides containing the active ingredients permethrin or carbaryl and labeled for bark beetle control, should be done by early June to protect trees from MPB.

What repels pine beetles? ›

There are three currently registered insecticides that reliably prevent bark beetle infestation at rates greater than 95%. These are the organophos- phate carbaryl, and the pyrethroids permethrin and bifenthrin.

What is the problem with pine beetles? ›

These black, pearlescent bark beetles destroy pine stands by mass attacking trees, carving extensive galleries beneath the bark. They also spread diseases through forests by carrying fungi and other pathogens with them from tree to tree.

How fast do southern pine beetles spread? ›

Large infestations may spread at a rate of >120 ft/day, and satellite in- festations may develop nearby. tree vacated by southern pine beetles.

How can southern pine beetle outbreaks be prevented? ›

Remove pines weakened by disease, injury, lightning or other stress to increase overall stand vigor and resistance to bark beetles. Avoid planting pines off-site, especially loblolly and shortleaf pines, which are more susceptible to the SPB than longleaf (pictured) or slash pines.

Can a southern pine beetle fly? ›

Adult beetles first fly to the trunks of pines, usually attacking at midtrunk or in the lower crown. Both adult and larval southern pine beetles feed on the phloem tissue under the bark of attacked pines.

What is one of the telltale signs of a southern pine beetle infestation? ›

First signs of southern pine beetle at- tacks are popcorn-size lumps of pitch, called “pitch tubes,” which occur at heights up to 60 feet (fig. 5). The pitch tubes of black turpentine beetles are much larger-about the sire of a fifty- cent piece-and appear at the foot of the tree (fig. 6).

What are the early signs of pine beetles? ›

Signs & Symptoms

Boring dust in bark crevices and on the ground immediately adjacent to the tree base are also a sign of bark beetles. Often popcorn-shaped masses of resin, called “pitch tubes,” are found on the trunk where beetle tunneling begins. Pitch tubes may be brown, pink or white.

What insecticide kills southern pine beetle? ›

Currently, only insecticides containing the active ingredients bifenthrin and permethrin are registered and proven effective for prevention of bark beetles in the Southern United States, and application of these chemicals is limited to uninfested pines in residential or ornamental settings.

How do you keep pine beetles from spreading? ›

The only thing to do is to remove the tree to help prevent the spread of pine bark beetles to other trees. Trees that are already turning brown are just breeding areas for more beetles. If this is happening, adjacent pine trees will be at risk. Then you are likely to have more trees to remove in the long run.

What temperature kills pine beetles? ›

According to the U.S. Forest Service, studies have indicated that temperatures from minus 13 to minus 31 degrees in midwinter can kill mountain pine beetles, but that's not a set number. It depends on many factors, including the stage of life the beetle is in.

What is the chemical control of southern pine beetle? ›

Surface sprays bifenthrin or permethrin are approved only for ornamental settings, limiting their use to high-value trees when the threat of southern pine beetle attack is imminent, and the potential benefits outweigh the costs of chemical use and the damage to natural enemies.

What is the difference between permethrin and bifenthrin? ›

Bifentrhin damages surface water and permethrin damages groundwater, the difference being that bifenthrin binds strongly to soil and pollutes waters when the soil erodes.

What is the best treatment for pine bark beetles? ›

Because the beetles live in the protected habitat beneath the bark, it is difficult to control them with insecticides. If trees or shrubs are infested, prune and dispose of bark beetle-infested limbs. If the main trunk is extensively attacked by bark beetles, the entire tree or shrub should be removed.

Can a tree recover from pine beetles? ›

A healthy pine tree can survive the attack from the mountain pine beetle by “pitching” the beetle out using its sap.


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