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Insect invasion poses major threat to Japan's vaunted cherry trees

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The kubi-aka tsuya kamikiri, known in English as the red-necked longhorn (scientific name: Aromia bungii), sounds like a breed of Texas steer. Actually it's a fairly large species of beetle, native to China, Mongolia and other parts of mainland Asia, which grows to a length of 2.5 to 4 centimeters.

Its presence in Japan, reports Yukan Fuji (March 14), means trouble ahead, because they just love to lay their larvae on cherry trees.

"Unless something is done. it wouldn't surprise me if someday Japan's cherry trees are wiped out," warns Koichi Goka. An entomologist employed by the National Environmental Research Laboratory, Goka specializes in risk and evaluation of bio systems.

The worst reported longhorn infestation appears to have occurred in Soka City, Saitama Prefecture, from five years ago, when they were spotted on cherry trees along the Kasai Yosui canal, a popular viewing site. Out of some 450 trees planted along the canal, 20 were in such bad condition they had to be chopped down.

"Local people have really come to love the blossoms every spring, and it would be terrible if the trees were to be wiped out," Soka resident Akemi Narahara, age 66, told a reporter.

To make matters worse, it was only on Jan 15 of this year that the red-necked longhorn beetle was designated an invasive foreign species. Goka noted that "Up to now, we haven't been able to stop them from propagating."

Last year, Goka's name appeared frequently in the news in relation to the red-necked longhorn mainly in in the form of remarks that Japan's cherry trees may be doomed. For one thing, it is difficult to spot an infestation of larvae beneath the bark of trees through ordinary inspection. In addition, budget limitations have held down the number of tree inspectors needed to do an effective job.

Does this mean cherry trees are doomed?

"It's not that there's no way to deal with them," says Goka. "Actually the Germans have succeeded in eradicating the beetles."

Unfortunately, explains Goka, the best way to get rid of an infestation of beetles is to cut down all the trees. Ouch!

And it's hard to imagine, out of cultural sentiments, Japanese will be able to bring themselves to grabbing axes and felling large numbers of one of their most treasured national symbols.

"To save the trees, careful planning and implementation involving both local governments and residents is necessary. In Japan's case, this is what's likely to pose the greatest difficulty," Goka tells Yukan Fuji.

© Japan Today

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What can we do? Sign up for lessons on how to catch this type of KAMAKIRI insect and pick them off one by one by hand?

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Popillia Japonica appeared in the United States after the gift of Cherry Trees back in the 1920s and earlier imports of bulb-ed plants in New Jersey. Our name for the critter is Japanese Beetle and the garden war has been going for about 100 years, now. So, we know how you feel. Question to ask is what keeps it in check back in China?

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