2008-08-04

What Is Red Is Dead

To think that something the size of a grain of rice can bring down entire forests (3.9 million acres in 2007, to be exact), escapes comprehension … until you walk in one of those forests, scrape some tree bark, and hold the pine beetle carefully between your fingertips.

It's not a foreign invader from a far-off land, so don't go blaming China or India. And it hasn't been dropped into our forests maliciously, so you don't have to call homeland security just yet. But it is deadly. The right combination of severe droughts over the past decade, warmer winters without serious cold snaps (prolonged extreme cold can kill the bugs) and increased density of some of our forests has left millions (yes millions) of trees choking – thanks to the tiny teeth of these beetles.

These little bugs crawl under the bark and start to feed on the phloem (the rings that carry the nutrients of a tree for those who were throwing paper airplanes in biology class). This month they feed and multiply and leap from tree to tree and they are having the time of their lives.