A pest? For how much longer?

The good thing about insect pests is there is just so much written about them. So as I plough through endless books researching House Guests, House Pests, I am constantly distracted by loads of others. Rather poignantly, I came across this one.

The ash borer, Hylesinus fraxini, delightfully pointing out (a) the "mother" galleries.

The ash borer, Hylesinus fraxini, delightfully pointing out (a) the “mother” galleries, from which (b) the larval galleries radiate to (c) the pupal chambers.

This rather lovely plate is from the prosaically titled Report on the injurious insects and other animals observed in the midland counties during 1906 by Walter E. Collinge. This was a time of burgeoning interest in agricultural and forestry insect pests, fuelled by the advent of chemical sprays (notably Paris green, a highly toxic copper acetoarsenite) and the appearance of professional economic entomologists  to advise on pest destruction and yield enhancement.

Although the original image was made as a wood engraving, it has been reproduced by the then modern technique of photo-lithography, giving the background a ghostly pallor.

Even in 1906 I don’t think the ash borer could really have been much of a problem; “three cases of damage to ash trees have been reported upon”. Much more likely, I think, it was the perfect opportunity to insert an attractive plate into the book.

In life, the pretty little beetle is a delicate pinkish grey, mottled by the pattern of small scales covering its wing-cases. It has always been a widespread and common insect, appearing in the sweep net on woodland rides, field edges and road verges wherever their are ash trees about. With the ominous arrival of ash die-back disease, I’m left wondering whether it will go the way of the elm bark beetles, once so common in southern England, but now decidedly scarce, since the destruction of their host trees by Dutch elm disease back in the late 1970s.


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