The mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae, is a species of bark beetle native to the forests of western North America from Mexico to central British Columbia. It has a hard black shell and measures about 5 millimetres, about the size of a grain of rice.
Mountain pine beetles inhabit pines, particularly the Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Scots Pine and Limber Pine. The bristlecone pines and pinyon pines are less commonly attacked. During early stages of an outbreak, attacks are limited largely to trees under stress from injury, poor site conditions, fire damage, overcrowding, root disease or old age. As beetle populations increase, the beetles attack the largest trees in the outbreak area.
The beetles kill the trees by boring through the bark into the phloem layer on which they feed and in which eggs are laid. Pioneer female beetles initiate attacks, and produce pheromones which attract other beetles and results in mass attack. The trees respond to attack by increasing their resin output in order to discourage or kill the beetles, but the beetles carry blue stain fungi which, if established, will block the tree resin response. Over time (usually within 2 weeks of attack), the trees are overwhelmed as the phloem layer is damaged enough to cut off the flow of water and nutrients. In the end, the trees starve to death, and the damage can be easily seen from the air in the form of reddened needles. Entire groves of trees after an outbreak will appear reddish for this reason. Usually, the older trees die first. After particularly long and hot summers, the mountain pine beetle population can increase dramatically, which leads to the deforestation of large areas.
For More Information: Mountain Pine Beetle
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