Thousands of beetles invade Mason County neighborhood

SHELTON, Wash. - Homeowners living in Mason County couldn't believe their eyes: thousands of tiny black beetles, invading their neighborhood trees, leaving a path of destruction behind.

"I have lived here for 13 years and I have never seen this happen," Jeri Plews said. "Occasionally we'll see drought, but this was healthy, beautiful summertime foliage that came under attack."

Plews and her husband are among dozens of homeowners in the Hiawatha Park subdivision who started noticing their usually lush, green views were quickly turning brown. She said the infestation started in July, and by the middle of August the devastation was widespread.

"They fly in swarms from tree to tree; you couldn't go into your backyard without having the beetles land on you, getting in your hair," Plews said. "You would have to swat them off. If you walked near one of the trees affected, hundreds of these beetles could be seen."

Plews said the bugs set their sights on the neighborhood willows, alder and poplar trees, devouring all the leaves before moving on.

"Now we have all these bare trees with brown leaves falling," she said. "It's ugly."

Stunned by the scene, the Plews and their neighbors reached out to several experts, including the Master Gardener Program at the Washington State University Extension office in Mason County. In each case, they were told this was not the first time the experts heard of this kind of infestation.

"We have had four or five different people bring in leaf samples with this kind of damage," said Jeanne Rehwaldt, extension coordinator supervisor at the WSU Extension office in Mason County. "We're trying to determine what (the beetles) are and if it's one insect crossing over to different plants."

Another source at the WSU Extension office also responded to the Plews, stating that residents in both Mason and Thurston counties were reporting a similar scene.

Rehwaldt said while it looks like a leaf beetle, known to feed on alder and willow trees, a sample has been sent to a plant diagnostician at the WSU Plant & Insect Diagnostic Laboratory in Puyallup. The office is currently waiting for the sample to arrive before knowing for sure what type of beetle it is.

The question the Plews want answered is what happens to the trees next year?

"We have been told to wait and see if the leaves and the trees make a return next spring," Jeri Plews said. "Our concern is larva will winter over, and next year could it get worse."