Everglades' Latest Threat: Tiny, Fungus-Spreading Asian Beetles

Invasive pythons have been getting all the credit, but there's another invasive species wrecking havoc in the Everglades that could end up causing more damage.

It's the red bay ambrosia beetle, a particularly small species native to Asia that first came to the U.S. in 2002, likely through the importation of wood products. Though, the bug has an accomplice in destroying the Glades: laurel wilt, a fungus it spreads that has proven deadly to thousands of trees in the fragile river of grass.

See also: Move Over Pythons, Invasive Meat-Eating Lizards Are the Everglades' New Pest

The fungus was first detected on the western edges of Miami-Dade in 2011 and has since spread. According to the Associated Press, the fungus has killed swamp bay trees dotted throughout 330,000 acres of the Everglades so far. It also can be deadly to commercial avocado trees.

While authorities have tried to stop its spread among those avocado trees (you know, because there's money involved), there hasn't been much of a game plan as to how to eradicate it in Everglades National Park.

"It's amazing how much of an impact this one little tiny beetle that's no bigger than Lincoln's nose on a penny has done," Jason Smith, a University of Florida expert, told the AP. "And it continues to spread."

Smith hopes to cultivate a type of swamp bay tree that is resistant to the fungus to help curb the beetle-assisted destruction.

The death of large swaths of swamp bay trees may have further consequences, as their void leaves room for other invasive plant species, including Brazilian pepper, Australian pine and melalueca, to thrive in their place. Continuing the chain of problems, those species' roots often disrupt indigenous plants as well as sea turtle nesting areas.

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