Invasion of the Longhorn Beetles

In Worcester, Massachusetts, authorities are battling an invasive insect that is poised to devastate the forests of New England

Researchers search for Asian longhorned beetles among Worcester's hardwoods. (Max Aguilera-Hellweg)
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Sitting with McFarland in a car in Worcester listening to the thrum of logging activity, I was struck by what a strange confluence of events had brought the beetle to Worcester, an ocean away from its native range. People are largely to blame, of course. But there seemed an accidental ingenuity in the way the beetle had hitched itself, undetected, to the one species capable of taking it everywhere. I asked McFarland if he ever found something to admire in the Asian longhorned beetle, despite all the trouble it had caused.

"Oh, yes," he said. "I admire all insects. People say that insects will inherit the earth, but entomologists know better. The earth already belongs to the insects. They were here long before us and they've taken over every niche. They're in nearly every inch of soil, and they're in the atmosphere. We wouldn't be here without them—without pollination and decomposition. The earth is theirs. We're just trying to share it for a while."

Peter Alsop writes about science and the environment. Max Aguilera-Hellweg was the photographer for "Diamonds on Demand" in the June 2008 issue of Smithsonian.


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