Wasp watchers effective in ash borer search, study finds

Glenn Rosenholm
Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry, U.S. Forest Service
January 17th, 2013 at 7:45PM

Volunteer wasp watchers represent an effective force multiplier in the early detection of the ash-killing, invasive insect known as the emerald ash borer, according to “Qualitative Analysis of Wasp Watchers,” a study posted on the Social Science Research Network.

Wasp watchers use a proven and highly sensitive early detection method called bio-surveillance based on original Canadian research. In bio-surveillance, the watchers monitor the behavior of the native wasp Cerceris fumipennis to search for the ash borer. The wasp naturally preys on a variety of buprestid beetles, including the emerald ash borer.

Forestry and agricultural agencies in five states -- Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and North Carolina -- collectively manage about 170 wasp watchers. A total of eight Eastern states use bio-surveillance to find the emerald ash borer.

The Forest Service’s Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry funded and coordinated training for state and federal forest health managers in New England in 2008 to use the wasp to search for emerald ash borer. The Forest Service also developed a database for participants to submit their survey data and provided funding to help identify all the beetles collected by the wasp.


It often takes only one training session to get a volunteer up to speed as a wasp watcher. Some volunteers are new to the program, while others have been wasp watching four years or more.

Wasp watchers range from young children to senior citizens. Retirees, master gardeners, scouts and 4-H Club members can make excellent wasp watchers. But anyone can participate.

The emerald ash borer is native to Asia and was first detected in North America near Detroit in 2002. Since then, the insect has killed tens of millions of ash trees across 17 states and two Canadian provinces.