First Full Day

Today was my first full day out in the field filming.  I headed down to an old beetlekill spot in the Belleplain State Forest to try my luck at capturing some moments in the life of a Southern Pine Beetle.  I didn’t see quite as much action as I was hoping for, but I still caught a few SPB-related shots, like this one of a beetle swimming through pine resin in order to enter the tree (the beetle on the right has already been defeated by the toxic, viscous resin):

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I also ran into a couple other insects in the forest that took my eyes off the SPB from time to time.  Here are a few highlights:

A buck moth (Hemileuca maia) caterpillar (I believe)

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A yellow fly (Diachlorus ferrugatus?)

How it Starts: First Shots

I’m back in New Hampshire right now after spending a few days in New Jersey. Yesterday I was in the field helping out with collecting phloem samples.  I found a little time to take some footage, so I decided to string out a few first shots, featuring pines, fieldwork, and even a Southern Pine Beetle:

Since this is an introduction to the project, I chose just the introduction to a song for the music – it’s “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem.

This is a blog about beetles

Well not just about beetles.  It’s also about pine trees, New Jersey, forest ecology, nature in general, and science.  But don’t worry, there will be plenty of beetles.

Southern Pine Beetle in Pine Resin

Dendroctonus frontalis, the Southern Pine Beetle (often abbreviated SPB), is less than the size of a grain of rice, but its impact on our world is on the order of millions of acres.   With far-reaching ecological effects to multi-million dollar economic impacts, these diminutive insects have gained the attention of timber producers and forest lovers from Alabama to New Jersey.

The SPB feeds on the phloem of pine trees, coordinating mass attacks using aggregation pheromones and overwhelming tree defenses.  The result is epidemic tree loss that is startlingly apparent from above the forest, and eventually obvious from ground level as entire stands of pines drop their leaves and die.

Photo credits: Matt Ayres

In 2008, the SPB crossed the Egg Harbor River in New Jersey and began moving to the north and west. By 2010, the beetles were in the heart of the New Jersey Pinelands, causing an epidemic of tree death that has been projected to destroy 80% of the forest in the next ten years if no action is taken.

We’ll be watching the SPB this summer from the Rutgers field station near Pemberton, NJ.  While conducting field research on the SPB and its associates, we’ll be trying to capture a few unique stories that describe the current situation both from a biological and social or economic point of view.  Along the way, we’ll often stop to revel in the hidden beauty and diversity of the surprisingly large and wild forests of New Jersey.