Aug 5, 2014 12:39 AM by Kelsey Kennedy

Sawfly Outbreak Reaches Epidemic Levels in Southern Colorado

A tiny pest is causing a huge problem in Southern Colorado. The Forest Service says an outbreak of the Pine Sawfly has reached epidemic levels. The problem was first spotted near the El Paso- Elbert County line.

The sawfly is in its larva stage during the summer, when it devours the needles of Ponderosa Pines. Brendan Shank, the owner of Bug Free Tree and Shrub in Colorado Springs says the larvae can strip a tree of its needles in as little as 24 hours.

"You'll have a healthy tree one day, and the next day, you won't have any needles on your tree," he says.

Scientists with the Colorado State Forest Service are actively monitoring the outbreak.

"Because of the significance of this outbreak, folks are seeing the larvae all over the ground under the tree and on the bark of the tree," says Assistant District Forester, Meg Halford.

Some tree services have also treated Austrian and Pinon pines. The outbreak is predominantly in eastern El Paso County, but it can travel fast.

"If it gets into Colorado Springs, it will take out a whole block within a week," says Shank.

The larvae hatched earlier this summer, and have been feasting ever since.

"The larva is voracious," says Albert Godec, the owner of Bob Rundo Tree Surgery. "Its looking to eat, and feed and feed and feed, so that it can get into a cocoon stage and transform into an adult."

"Once they mature, they're going to eventually drop off the trees," says Halford. "What they do is they pupate in the upper duff soil layer underneath the tree."

Come spring, thousands of sawflies will emerge from the earth and begin to multiply once again.

"One year you'll have them, the next year it'll get worse," says Shank. "Then in two or three years, you can almost see every Ponderosa tree have them."

The larvae can be treated before they go into the ground for the winter. Many have already started to pupate. The rest will drop from the trees in the coming weeks.

"They're ugly, green, half a quarter inch long, little red head on them, and there will be a thousand of them on a needle," Shank says. "You can spray for them."

Scientists say, if you ignore the pests, your trees could die within five years.



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