John Zettel and Chrisi Sheridan are in the business of saving trees on Long Beach Island from what they say is an Ips beetle epidemic.
"We're like the CSI of bugs," Sheridan said.
The investigators, who own South Jersey Weed Control, have tentatively identified the beetle as the critter responsible for eating the insides of pine trees on Long Beach Island.
Sheridan said that due to a harsh winter that dumped a large amount of snow and a hot summer, pine and spruce trees on the north end of the island are being attacked by Ips beetles, also known as engraver beetles.
Zettel said he and Sheridan have been driving around the north end of the island and collecting the addresses of people with dying pine and spruce trees.
"They don't live here (year-round), so they don't know the trees are dying. We have to treat them or remove the trees before the larvae hatch, or come spring they'll move onto another tree," Sheridan said.
The couple has already removed several infected trees from LBI and must burn or grind them soon to destroy the beetles and larvae before they hatch in the spring. Zettel said the beetles are currently dormant and working inside the trees instead of jumping from tree to tree.
"This is the best time to treat the tree before the larvae hatch," he said.
Other portions of the state are dealing with another infestation, from the southern pine beetle. Last year, southern beetles destroyed more than 1,200 acres of pine forest in nine counties, including Ocean County, the U.S. Forest Service says.
But Sheridan and Zettel are focused on controlling the spread of the Ips beetle on LBI.
"No one is aware this is happening because people on the island close up their homes for the winter and can't see what's happening with their trees," Sheridan said.
Zettel said the trees are vulnerable because they are already stressed from harsh weather.
"These beetles do not typically attack vigorous trees," he said.
The Ips beetle measures just a 10th of an inch. At her office in the West Creek section of Eagleswood Township, Sheridan examined bark from a black pine tree from a property in Harvey Cedars. A tiny Ips beetle crawled across a dirt-covered paper towel.
Sheridan said the beetles enter the tree through openings that look like shotgun holes that they dig. Once inside, the beetles engrave the bark and tree with patterns similar to hieroglyphics. The beetles bring with them a fungus that infects the tree and ultimately kills it if it is not treated.
The inside of the infected piece of bark that Sheridan held looked like a road map from the beetle's engravings. Ips beetles dig tunnels inside the trees, much like termites, Zettel said.
"Before the tree starts to die, we can look at them and know what we're dealing with," Sheridan said.
Sheridan and Zettel said that because of the economy, a lot of people have cut back on feeding and treating trees with insecticides. The treatment the couple uses to treat the infected trees is called Mauget. The insecticide is injected into the trunk of the tree with a needle.
"Then it's sucked up into the center of the tree and all of the outermost branches," Sheridan said.
Zettel and Sheridan said they love trees and it's sad to see so many dying on LBI.
"From Long Beach Boulevard alone, without even going down any side streets, I've seen 50 to 100 dead and dying trees because of these beetles. Unfortunately, people think the trees turning colors is normal, but this isn't normal," Sheridan said.
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