We are here today to speak with one of earth’s oldest inhabitants, learn about its habits, habitat and maybe uncover some secrets that will help us co-exist with this often grossly misunderstood member of the Animal Kingdom, the Order known as Coleoptera.
Here to represent that order is Dendroctonus frontalis, the southern pine beetle, now flourishing in the southeastern, Mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States and the Central Pine Barrens on Long Island.
The following is an imagined dialogue between environmental reporter Glenn Jochum and an out-of-work southern pine beetle.
Reporter: Science has made peace with the fact that not only have beetles been here for 284 million years, as indicated by fossil records, but there are roughly 380,000 species on earth, probably millions more to be discovered and they account for 25 percent of all known life forms on earth. What is your secret?
Beetle: Too many to name, really. We have the ability to live in extreme environments. Just take a look at our hard exoskeleton and wings. We are built to last.
Reporter: With that in mind, it is probably a safe assumption to make that beetles are not going anywhere. You have proven that you can be managed but not eliminated. How do you plead?
Beetle: How condescending! You are managing us? That is so imperialistic an attitude.
Reporter: But we have to do something. You love forests, we love forests. Can’t we share?
Beetle: We were here first. Grow a hard exoskeleton is all I have to say. I said that the order is diverse but some of us have a very specific diet. We eat trees, pine trees, and mostly pitch pines.
Reporter: It is true that you are very diverse. Within your order, you have some of the most beloved and respected members as well as the most despised. Example: On one hand you have the scarab, the sacred beetle of the Egyptians and on the other, the boll weevil, and with all due respect, yourself.
Beetle: Your species is pretty extreme too. You have Mother Teresa and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Reporter: OK, got me there. Change of topic: You keep extending your range thanks to warmer temperatures, or if you believe it, climate change.
Beetle: Yes, we love the new administration at the White House. They not only think climate change is a hoax, they are busy weakening laws and cutting funds that keep us from colonizing. I say, the less they invest the more we infest. New York State is killing us though. They just approved money to fund more forestry crews.
Reporter: I’m sure you see the irony in the fact that you invaded the Northeast and your musical namesake, that funny-looking group with the variant spelling, invaded America five decades ago to cheering crowds. Yet all you seem to generate is bad press.
Beetle: Well, we are actually more Stones fans. We’re a little darker as an order. I mean, being closer to the earth and rolling around in dung will do that to you I suppose. And the Beatles weren’t very smart comparing themselves to Jesus now were they? That was really bad marketing.
Reporter: So how do you propose to polish up your image?
Beetle: Our new branding is aimed at the positive contributions that members of the Beetle order bring to the planet. We’re not all plant-sucking, crop-damaging agricultural pests, you know. We provide entertainment to the masses who gamble on our fighters in Thailand. Young boys in Japan keep our stags and rhino beetles as pets. And when is the last time you enjoyed a real feast of mealworms?
Reporter: (trying to suppress a gag) How ‘bout them fireflies and ladybugs? We all love a good light show and who hasn’t had good luck after letting a ladybug go? Beetle: Well, this seems to have gone better than expected. Shall we call it a truce?
Reporter: We concede that you’re gonna take down a certain number of trees but we’re not gonna lay down our arms either.
Beetle: One last thing: Can you just disclose what your policy is on thinning tree stands? It has our females very confused when they unleash their pheromones to attract us to the trees they’ve found. We can’t seem to find our way from tree to tree anymore.
Reporter: I am sorry but I can’t comment on that it. It is classified.
Beetle: OK, we’ll be in touch (dials the White House). Mr. President, can you send one of your representatives over? I’m meeting with the fake news about forestry initiatives.
Thank you to DEC Forrester John Wernet for beetle translation services.