Southern Pine Beetle

Southern pine beetles create pitch tubes that look like popcorn on the outside of a tree.
Resin emitted by pine trees infested with southern pine beetles forms popcorn-shaped pitch tubes like the one shown here.

What is the southern pine beetle?

The southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) is a bark beetle native to the southeastern United States that has steadily expanded its range north and west, possibly due to climate change. Considered one of the most destructive forest pests in the United States the southern pine beetle attacks all species of pine including pitch pine, the predominant pine species of the Long Island Pine Barrens and on Fire Island.

Southern pine beetles spend much of their lives inside pine trees, eating plant tissue and reproducing before emerging to repeat the process again. The activity of southern pine beetles interrupts the flow of nutrients and can eventually kill the tree.

In this region, the southern pine beetle primarily attacks pitch pines (Pinus rigida), but black pines (Pinus thunbergii), white pines (Pinus strobus), and Norway spruce (Picea abies) have also been impacted. If this beetle is left unmanaged it can have a dramatic impact on the condition of a forest.

Are southern pine beetles on Fire Island?

Southern pine beetle infestations have been found at a total of seven sites within Fire Island National Seashore boundaries since it was first discovered in October 2014, including: Lighthouse Tract, Sailors Haven/Sunken Forest, Carrington Tract, Blue Point Beach, Watch Hill, Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness Area, and the William Floyd Estate (located in Mastic Beach, NY).

Since 2015, the National Park Service has implemented suppression efforts at Fire Island National Seashore, felling more than 1,200 trees to prevent the spread of the beetle. Many of the infestations were discovered at an early stage, which improved the chances of suppression success. Learn more about the Seashore's suppression efforts in this Outside Science (inside parks) web video.

How do I know if there are southern pine beetles in my backyard?

Adult southern pine beetles are about the size of a grain of rice and are brownish black in color. So it is unlikely that the beetles will be observed. Signs of southern pine beetle may be more noticeable.

Pitch tubes are popcorn-shaped globs of resin on the bark, emitted as a defense mechanism by the tree and may be the most noticeable sign of southern pine beetle infestations. Infected trees may also show a "browning crown" with predominately brown or orange pine needles.

Where can I report southern pine beetle infestations in my community?

By reporting suspected southern pine beetle infestations, you will be providing further information on the spread of the beetle in this region. Please find more information on southern pine beetle and on how to report infestations on the New York State DEC Southern Pine Beetle Website.

Learn more about invasive species in national parks.

Last updated: March 3, 2017

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