Detecting Beetles That Kill Trees, Make Great Lumber

All across southern California there are tiny beetles eating their way into trees and burrowing into the wood. The holes made by these beetles are only about 1mm in diameter, making them nigh invisible on any tree with rough bark. Trees infested with these beetles will eventually die, making this one of the largest botanical catastrophes in the state.

Ambrosia maple, the result of these beetles boring into maple trees. Although ambrosia maple is arguable prettier, it is significantly cheaper than hard maple, making trees infested with beetles less valuable. Image source: [ironoakrva]
For [Joan]’s project for the 2016 Hackaday Prize, she’s working on a project to detect the polyphagous shothole borer, the beetle that drills into trees and eats them from the inside out. This is a surprisingly hard problem – you can’t look at the inside of a tree without cutting it down – so [Joan] has turned to other means of detecting the beetle, including listening for the beetle’s mastications with a stethoscope.

Although these ambrosia beetles will burrow into trees and kill them, there is another economic advantage to detecting these tiny, tiny beetles. The fungi deposited into these beetle bore holes make very pretty wood, but this wood is less valuable than lumber of the same species that isn’t infested with beetles. It’s a great project for the upcoming Citizen Science portion of the Hackaday Prize, as the best solution for detecting these beetles right now is sending a bunch of grade school students into the woods.

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