Bark beetle

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The unrelated sawyer beetles (Monochamus) and some other wood-boring beetle taxa (especially Cucujoidea) are sometimes called "bark beetles", too.
Bark beetles
Dendroctonus ponderosae.jpg
Mountain pine beetle,
Dendroctonus ponderosae
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Scolytidae
Subfamily: Scolytinae
Latreille, 1807


A bark beetle is one of about 220 genera with 6,000 species of beetles in the subfamily Scolytinae. Traditionally, this was considered a distinct family Scolytidae, but is now understood to be very specialized members of the "true weevil" family (Curculionidae). Well-known species are members of the type genus Scolytus, namely the European elm bark beetle S. multistriatus and the large elm bark beetle S. scolytus, which like the American elm bark beetle Hylurgopinus rufipes, transmit Dutch elm disease fungi (Ophiostoma). The mountain pine beetle Dendroctonus ponderosae, southern pine beetle Dendroctonus frontalis, and their near relatives are major pests of conifer forests in North America. A similarly aggressive species in Europe is the spruce ips Ips typographus. A tiny bark beetle, the coffee berry borer, Hypothenemus hampei is a major pest on coffee plantations around the world.


Bark beetles are so-named because the best-known species reproduce in the inner bark (living and dead phloem tissues) of trees. All species, such as the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) attack and kill live trees. Most, however, live in dead, weakened, or dying hosts. Bark beetles are ecologically and economically significant.[1] Outbreak species help to renew the forest by killing older trees. Other species aid in the decomposition of dead wood. However, several outbreak-prone species are known as notorious pests.

Bark beetles of the family Scolytidae feed and breed between the bark and the wood of various tree species, including spruces. More than 20 species feed on weakened, dying, or dead spruce, fir, and hemlock.[2] Most of them restrict their breeding area to one part of the tree, be it twig, branch, stem, or root collar. Some breed in trees of only one species, others in trees of many species. As secondary pests in undisturbed forests, these beetles serve the useful purpose of hastening the recycling of dead and dying wood, but with large amounts of breeding material, extremely high populations can develop and attack and kill nearby healthy trees, thereby compounding the epidemic with additional breeding material.

Bark beetles often attack trees that are already weakened by disease, drought, smog, conspecific beetles, or physical damage. Healthy trees may put up defenses by producing resin or latex, which may contain a number of insecticidal and fungicidal compounds that can kill or injure attacking insects, or simply immobilize and suffocate them with the sticky fluid. Under outbreak conditions, the sheer number of beetles can, however, overwhelm the tree's defenses, and the results can be disastrous for the lumber industry.

Extensive mountain pine beetle infestation and destruction of lodgepole pine in northern Colorado along the Continental Divide - (seen from summit of Cascade Mountain in 2011)

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, native bark beetles cause high levels of tree mortality in California.[3] Massive outbreaks of mountain pine beetles in western North America after about 2005 have killed millions of acres of forest from New Mexico to British Columbia, threatening increases in mudslides, forest fires, and other adverse effects.[4] The outbreaks could be a consequence of global warming: the warmer winters in the region allow various species to expand their ranges and proliferate.[5]

Forests of Šumava damaged by Ips typographus and clearings after consecutive logging

In some places, such as the Šumava National Park in the Czech Republic's Bohemian Forest, problems with bark beetles have become a heated issue with an international political dimension. On one side, some experts (usually with a background in environmental sciences) demanded that nature be left alone and that natural processes be allowed to take their course, even if it meant the bark beetle would destroy most of the forest. On the other side, other experts (usually with a background in forest management[citation needed]) demanded intervention. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Šumava park management mostly favored intervention. Many outside groups became involved in the dispute, such as the lumber industry (which supported intervention because of possible profit to be made), or some local politicians, afraid that tourists would turn back from a forest decayed after a beetle invasion. The anti-intervention side got support from entomologists from the Czech Academy of Sciences and from several environmental organizations, such as Friends of the Earth. At the height of the dispute, cases occurred where activists literally defended the trees with their bodies, tying themselves to the trunks, and the dispute was widely covered in the main Czech daily newspapers and on TV news.[6]

Some bark beetles form a symbiotic relationship with certain Ophiostomatales fungi, and are named "ambrosia beetles" after these "ambrosia fungi". The ambrosia beetles (such as Xyleborus) feed on fungal "gardens" and are one of only three insect groups known to farm fungi. The other two groups are ants and termites, neither of which is particularly closely related to beetles. Courtesy of the fungus, ambrosia bark beetles are able to indirectly feed from many more species of trees than their evolutionary relatives that do not feed on fungi, by having the fungi do the work of overcoming the plants' chemical defenses. The beetles carry the fungal spores in special structures, called mycangia, and infect the trees as they attack them.

Like many other insects, Scolytinae emit pheromones to attract conspecifics which are thus drawn to trees already colonized by bark beetles. This can result in heavy infestations and eventually death of the tree. Many are also attracted to ethanol, one of the byproducts of microbial growth in dead woody tissues.


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Rose, A.H.; Lindquist, O.H. 1985. Insects of eastern spruces, fir and, hemlock, revised edition. Gov’t Can., Can. For. Serv., Ottawa, For. Tech. Rep. 23. 159 p. (cited in Coates et al. 1994, cited orig ed 1977)
  3. ^ "Bark Beetles in California Conifers Are Your Trees Susceptible" (PDF). 
  4. ^ Jim Robins (17 Nov 2008). "Bark Beetles Kill Millions of Acres of Trees in West". New York Times. 
  5. ^ Bentz, Barbara J.; et al. (2010). "Climate Change and Bark Beetles of the Western United States and Canada: Direct and Indirect Effects". BioScience 60 (8): 602–613. doi:10.1525/bio.2010.60.8.6. 
  6. ^ Daniela Lazarová (21 Aug 2003). "Czech National Park infested with bark beetle". Radio Praha. Retrieved 7 Aug 2008. 

External links and further reading[edit]

on the UF / IFAS Featured Creatures Web site