Biting Cold Could Exterminate Southern Pine Beetle

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -

The constant waves of cold air keeping New Jersey in the deep freeze this month may be miserable for its residents, but may actually be a boon in the fight against one of the state’s most persistent pests — the Southern pine beetle.

The bug has migrated north in recent decades and has been devastating 30,000 acres of the Pine Barrens, choking trees to death as they burrow deep into their trunks.

But temperatures reached a potentially magical minus 10 degrees in northern portions of the Pinelands last week and have been sub-zero on another occasion, leading to hopes that some of the population may have died off and could be more easily managed come spring.

What’s more, ricocheting temperatures — sometimes changing more than 60 degrees in 24 hours — may provide even more help, building and then melting ice crystals inside the insects that could destroy their cells over time.

“If you have this freeze-thaw cycle within the insect, it’s more likely that they’re going to suffer cellular damage and die,” Jim Fredericks, an entomologist with the National Pest Management Association, told The Star-Ledger of Newark. “The magic number for the pine beetle is minus eight degrees. That, in and of itself, will kill some of those off.”

These past few weeks have been the first time since 1994 that temperatures have reached levels that could kill off a substantial number of the beetles.