Scientists Enlist Insects to Help Protect Ash Trees

Photo Courtesy of David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood Network

Scientists in Tennessee are working to keep an invasive insect in check, as it gnaws through ash trees in the Smokies. The weapon of choice against the Emerald Ash Borer? It’s actually more bugs.

The Emerald Ash Borer can devastate an ash tree in just a few years, as larva carve long grooves in under the bark.

Photo Courtesy of David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood Network


EAB has killed millions of ash trees in Michigan since it was first found there a decade ago, but it’s far less destructive in its native Asia. That’s because it’s the favorite food of certain wasps there.

Scientists in East Tennessee are trying to enlist those wasps’ help this summer.

 “These wasps don’t sting people. They’re not paper wasps; they’re not yellow jackets.”

UT Professor Jerome Grant has been releasing hundreds of the wasps in stands of ash trees around East Tennessee. He says it’s impossible to wipe out the ash borer, but in several states the wasps have gone a long way toward slowing its spread.


Agriculture officials are tracking the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer, in case it moves into Middle Tennessee. You may have noticed purple three-sided boxes hanging in trees – they look kind of like a downed box-kite. Those are traps to help experts detect if the ash borer shows up somewhere new. They think it’s mostly spread by campers hauling firewood long distance.

WPLN’s Jeriel Johnson contributed to this report.

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