The emerald ash borer is getting closer to Onondaga County. The Asian beetle infests and kills North American ash trees, and are as close to central New York as Rochester. Now, Cornell Cooperative Extension is recruiting volunteers for a program in Onondaga County that could let wasps sound the alarm that the devastating bugs are here.
So how does a wasp tell us that the Emerald Ash Borer is in town? Simple. They eat them.
"They have been known to take those beetles, paralyze them and take them back to their nest," says Kristina Ferrare, a forestry resource educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension. She says these aren't the kind of wasps that sting us, but ground nesting wasps called Cerceris fumipennis.
The Cooperative Extension wants volunteers to watch some of these nests, usually found in sandy soil, and see what bugs the mother wasp is bringing home for dinner.
"We use a simple index card, with a hold punched in each end. It's secured to the ground on one side with a golf tee, with the other opening over a hole of the nest entrance. So the female by herself can come and go through that hole and get into the next. But she's not able to fit through the hole with a prey beetle," said Ferrare.
The wasp watcher turns the beetles dropped by mother wasp to the Cooperative Extension office, and they'll determine if any are emerald ash borers (EAB, for short). She says the wasp watcher program has identified the destructive beetles in Connecticut.
"Connecticut was successful in identifying EAB in one area because of a wasp watcher program. So it does work. You do find adult beetles, and you can do the appropriate kind of survey to determine where that infestation is," said Ferrare.
And the wasps are none the wiser.
"They don't really realize they're helping us identify emerald ash borer. They're just out there trying to provision their nests. And we're just using nature to help us find a pest that's pretty elusive."