The story detailed in the pages of this book took place in my backyard. Literally. The controversy over ALB eradication, the cutting of trees, and the clearing of forested areas was one I was personally invested in, because the trees my neighbors and I lived under, climbed into, collected syrup from, and mostly adored, were threatened. This made creating Beetle Busters easy in some ways: most of the firsthand research I did took place within minutes of my house, for example. But it made the book hard in other ways: I had to come to terms with the fact that the only way to stop ALB from moving out of Massachusetts and into the surrounding forests of western and northern New England was to cut down trees I loved. Trees I sat under while watching my kids play baseball and soccer, trees I’d watched birds nest in, trees I’d touched with my own two hands. This was very, very hard.
I conducted thirty-six interviews with scientists, foresters, canopy researchers, surveyors, climbers, dog handlers, and local residents. Many of these interviews involved tagging along as the folks I interviewed were working in the forests of central Massachusetts. As always, these field trips thrilled me. They helped me to understand just how impossible the task of eradicating a tree-boring insect from a forest can seem. Over the course of the two years I researched the book, my respect for the people attempting this incredibly difficult task grew tremendously. In the end, I realized that these men and women want the same thing I do: to save trees.
Here’s a partial list of the interviews and field trips I took:
- I interviewed Clint McFarland in his Worcester office many, many times.
- I also tracked Clint in the field as he visited suspicious trees (trees that survey crews had identified as potentially infested with ALB), watched him talk with local residents in libraries and in infested parks, flew over central Massachusetts with him in a small plane, and traveled to Pennsylvania, where he grew up, to see where his passion for insects and their environments began.
- I visited a laboratory in which a colony of ALB is raised in captivity. The security at this laboratory is, as you can imagine, very tight. I learned how one makes sure that small beetles don’t sneak out of a lab like this: large mirrors and vacuum cleaners are stationed at the exits … and everyone who leaves must use both to be sure their body is beetle-free!
- I watched climbers hoist themselves up into trees and examine trunks and branches from every conceivable angle.
- Likewise, I watched trained sawyers ride a crane into the canopy, chainsaw in tow, to begin the difficult process of cutting down giant trees.
- I attended several public survey programs, in which regular gals like me were taught how to search trees for signs of ALB … and then were sent into the woods to do it. This is difficult work, tedious and also physically demanding. Hiking through groomed trails to look at trees is one thing, bushwhacking through untamed woods–while looking up through binoculars–is hard.
- I attended community meetings and interviewed kids and adults that lived in the parts of Worcester County that have been most infected by the eradication effort.
There was a lot more. Each and every field trip was an adventure that taught me something powerful about the ALB story. Each and every person I interviewed, shadowed, or listened to played a part in the book I ultimately wrote.
Hands-on Activities for Students
Teachers often ask me for ideas about hands-on activities they can do with their students while reading Beetle Busters …
Although at first glance, it may seem that this is a book about beetles, it is equally a book about trees. An excellent exercise, then is to simply consider trees. Take students somewhere there are a variety of trees growing and spend some time recording their features with words, photographs, and drawings. Back in the classroom, use a field guide (see list below) to identify the trees you found. How many of those you identify are potential hosts for Asian longhorned beetles? Think and talk about what the place you visited might look like if all those host trees were cut down and carted away.
You might also want to study the trees—live, healthy ones as well as any downed trees in the area—for signs of insect life. An excellent guide for this kind of observation is TRACKS & SIGN OF INSECTS AND OTHER INVERTEBRATES, by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney. You will quickly see that tree and insect lives are closely intertwined. While you’re documenting insects, be sure to keep your eyes open for signs of insects that cause damage to forests; the US Forest Service keeps photos and information on these insects at this Invasive Species/Insects web page.
Insects aren’t the only creatures that live in trees, or whose lives can depend on them. Be sure to keep watch for other signs of life in and around the trees you are studying, too.
If you happen to live in a place where an eradication program is underway or, more specifically, a tree re-planting initiative is ongoing, get involved! Planting large numbers of trees requires a whole lot of people to get involved and care for the trees as they become established in their new location. Stewards to water, prune, stake, and otherwise protect newly-planted saplings are always needed. Contact the organizations planting trees in your area to ask how you can help.
And if you don’t live in a place where an eradication program is underway, consider planting a tree anyway. Is there a place near your home or school, in your neighborhood or favorite park, that could use a few trees? Maybe YOU could make that happen.
Books with Related Themes
There are lots of great books for young people (and not-so-young people, too) that touch on the themes explored in Beetle Busters. Here’s a short annotated list to get you started. Enjoy!
Books About Invasive Species
- SCIENCE WARRIORS, by Sneed Collard III (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) — A Scientists in the Field book devoted to the men, women, and canines (!) helping to stave off the most pernicious of invasive species.
- WHAT IS THE THREAT OF INVASIVE SPECIES? by Eve Hartman (Raintree, 2012) —This book explains what invasive species are and then explores the variety of environmental problems they can cause by introducing specific examples.
- WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT INVASIVE SPECIES? by Lorijo Metz (PowerKids Press, 2010)
Books About Insects
- THE BEETLE BOOK, by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) – A great overview of the plethora of insects commonly known as beetles.
- BUG SHOTS, by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel (Holiday House, 2011) – An up-close (and I mean really up close) look at bodies of insects, including beetles.
- INSECT DETECTIVE, by Steve Voake and Charlotte Voake (Candlewick, 2010) – A beautiful picture book that will inspire even the youngest readers to go outside and appreciate insects.
- TRACKS & SIGN OF INSECTS AND OTHER INVERTEBRATES, by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney (Stackpole Books, 2010) — This book will blow you away. Tracking insects! Who knew?
- FIELD GUIDE TO INSECTS OF NORTH AMERICA, by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kauffman (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) — There are lots of guides like this to choose from. But be forewarned: there are so many insects in North America that it is impossible to find a guide that has them all. For something more comprehensive, chose a guide to just one type of insect (PETERSON FILED GUIDE TO BEETLES, by Richard White, for example) or a guide that explores just one region of North America (INSECTS OF NEW ENGLAND & NEW YORK, by Tom Murray, for example)
- THE SIBLEY GUIDE TO TREES, by David Allen Sibley (Knopf, 2009) — This is a great book for helping to identify trees. For a more detailed look at trees in your location, however, you might want a guide with a smaller, more regional focus. For example, PETERSON FIELD GUIDE TO EASTERN TREES, by George Petrides and Janet Wehr is a great guide for New England trees. You can get even more focused, believe it or not, by searching out guides to tree features, like Michael Wojtech’s BARK: A FIELD GUIDE TO TREES OF THE NORTHEAST.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Asian Longhorned Beetle website is the place to go for up-to-the-minute details on ALB and its presence in this country.
For a look at other invasive insects that have made their way to the US, check out this Invasive Insects page from the US Forest Service. Clicking on an insect name will lead you to additional information, including photographs, life cycles, and natural histories.
The Vermont Division of Forestry offers some beetle busting teaching resources on their website. Check them out here. (The USDA site linked above also provides classroom educator tools; here’s a direct link.)
To learn about tree rings, visit the amazingly comprehensive website of Dr. Henri D. Grissino-Mayer at The University of Tennessee. Be sure to check out his images!
And for guidance with identifying trees, check out this helpful field guide from the Arbor Day Foundation.
For more incredible images, check out the scanning electron micrographs of insects created by Dennis Kunkel. And if you like what you see, check out his SEMs of spiders, fungi, and other life forms!
Video footage of actual eradication work in the field, as well as a peek at the inside of an ALB containment laboratory, check out this short video from Assignment Earth.
For a more detailed look at ALB and its history in the United States, watch this excellent short film from The Nature Conservancy.