USDA Forest Service

Forest Health Protection, Southern Region

Forest Service Headquarters
FHP Headquarters
Southern Region
State and Private Forestry
  FirstGov Link
  Evaluate Our Service
We welcome your comments and suggestions for improvement.

USDA Forest Service
Forest Health Protection
Region 8
1720 Peachtree Road, NW
Room 816 N
Atlanta, GA 30309

Phone: (404) 347-7478
Fax: (404) 347-1880

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Florida Forest Service USDA-APHIS Georgia Forestry Commission South Carolina Forestry Commission USDA Forest Service

Laurel Wilt

Insect Vector

The insect carrying the laurel wilt fungus (Raffaelea lauricola) is a very small beetle named the redbay ambrosia beetle or Xyleborus glabratus . This beetle is a member of a group of insects, known as ambrosia beetles, which carry fungi ("ambrosia") necessary for their young to develop. The beetles bore into wood, usually recently dead trees, to create tunnels or galleries where they lay their eggs. While boring in the wood, the tunnels are infected with fungi carried in special pouches in the head near the base of the beetles' mandibles. The larvae that hatch from the eggs live in the tunnels where they feed on the fungi growing on the wood.


The pouches or mycangia (arrows) in the head of a redbay ambrosia beetle where they carry the wilt fungus (Photo by Mike Ulyshen).


The redbay ambrosia beetle measures only about 1/16 th inch (2 mm) long, it is dark brown to black in color, and cylindrical in shape. It can be separated from other similar beetles found in or on redbay trees by looking at the tip of the abdomen which is somewhat V-shaped and pointed. It is also glabrous or shiny and without hairs.


Adult redbay ambrosia beetle (Photo by Mike Thomas)


Adult beetles can be found year-round along the coast but they occur at low numbers from late fall to early summer. They are most abundant from late-June until late-September.


Numbers of adult beetles captured in traps on infected trees at Hunting Island State Park, SC.


Normally ambrosia beetles are considered beneficial because they accelerate the decay process in dead trees, which is important for nutrient cycling in healthy forests. The redbay ambrosia beetle is native to Asia and was only recently introduced into the U. S. Although a number of other ambrosia beetles have been accidentally introduced into our country, they generally don't kill trees in forests. Unfortunately, the redbay ambrosia beetle and the associated wilt fungus have become tree killers.


The redbay ambrosia beetle is strongly attracted to redbay trees, particularly trees that have been wounded in some way such as through construction damage. Why redbay trees are so attractive is unclear but these trees are probably related to the beetles' natural hosts in its native countries.


Stopping redbay ambrosia beetle and laurel wilt will not be easy, and may not be possible. Unlike many other insects that feed on trees and require hundreds or thousands of individuals to cause serious harm, only one redbay ambrosia beetle is necessary to inoculate and kill a tree. So traditional approaches to insect control, such as preventative insecticides, will only reduce the chances of a tree being infected. But with large numbers of beetles and enough time, the chance that a beetle will find a place on the tree not covered by insecticide and successfully bore into the wood becomes increasingly likely.



Additional Information

  • Non-native Bark and Ambrosia Beetles - Robert J. Rabaglia, USDA Forest Service , 1/19/2007 (Abstract, 11 KB) (Slideshow, 515 KB)
  • Beetles and Their Emergence Patterns from Dead Redbay Trees - John L. Foltz, University of Florida (retired), 1/19/2007 (Slideshow, 839 KB)
  • Redbay Ambrosia Beetle Biology and Host Attraction - James Hanula, Robert J. Rabaglia, and Stephen W. Fraedrich, USDA Forest Service, 1/19/2007 (Slideshow, 924 KB)
  • Fungal-Ambrosia Beetle Interactions; Influences on Vectoring - Eric Ott, LSU Agricultural Center, 1/19/2007 (Slideshow, 437 KB)


< Back



[ Adobe® PDF documents on this page require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. See Disclaimers ]



USDA Forest Service - Forest Health Protection, Southern Region
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:18:29 CST

USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.