A tree-killing insect that has devastated eastern forests is confirmed in Charlotte

Updated: May. 31, 2017 at 11:50 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Bruce Henderson/The Charlotte Observer) - An invasive insect that has killed millions of ash trees across the U.S. has arrived in Charlotte, a city official said Tuesday.

The emerald ash borer was first detected in North Carolina in 2013 after invading most other eastern states. It was a matter of time before the metallic green beetle appeared in Charlotte, experts told the Observer earlier this spring.

The ash borer appeared to have killed trees at a commercial development near South Tryon Street and Billy Graham Parkway, Heartwood Tree Service owner Patrick George reported last week.

Assistant city arborist Laurie Reid Dukes, who is an entomologist, collected specimens of the insect at the site. They've been sent for confirmation by the federal government, but Dukes said she's sure of her identification.

The N.C. Forest Service has already updated its map of confirmed locations of the insect to include Mecklenburg County. Trees in Gaston, Lincoln, Catawba and Iredell counties, west and north of the city, have already been attacked.

"My guess is they've been here about two years," Dukes said, the time that it typically takes the insect to fully kill trees.

Charlotte's landscape management office has full information, including how to detect infestations, on its emerald ash borer page online. The city estimates 1,300 ash trees line Charlotte streets.

Signs of an infestation start with loss of leaves at the top of the tree. Other clues include tunnels under the tree's bark where larvae have fed. Sprouts, a defensive response by the tree, often emerge from the base of the trunk.

Experts compare the beetle's lethal potential to the blight that wiped out chestnut trees a century ago and to the insect that is now steadily killing hemlocks across the Southern Appalachian mountains.