Nature’s Biggest Jerks

Who are the biggest jerks in the woods? Pine beetles, that's who.
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Who are the biggest jerks in the woods? Pine beetles, that's who.

If Donald Trump sponsored a pageant to determine the jerkiest wild animal in North America today (besides that auburn possum napping atop his gourd), I’m pretty sure the mountain pine beetle’s a shoo-in for the crown. Sure, she ain’t much to look at, but in aggregate, the grain-of-rice-size insect has decimated 88 million acres of timber forest in 19 western states and Canada. (The pine beetle gobbled 264,000 acres of trees in Colorado in 2013 alone -- experts say it would’ve been worse, but that’s only because so many trees are already dead.)

The ripple of effect of dead trees goes far beyond painting mountain hiking trails a pleasant shade of rust: A shade-free forest erodes soils, grinding down local ecosystems. Forest fire risk increases, and the lack of trees means more carbon in the atmosphere, which means hotter, longer growing seasons for the beetles. It’s almost like they planned it. Tent-crushing deadfall at your favorite campsite means they are literally trying to kill you.

Now comes the worst bit: Even though Colorado and other parts of the country are in the middle of an unseasonable deep freeze, it’s not cold enough to slay the infestation. Pine beetles have basically changed the antifreeze in their system to withstand the cold snaps that usually kill them.

Dave Leatherman, a retired Colorado State Forest Service entomologist, tells The Denver Post that long periods of extreme cold can cut down the pine beetle population, but the pests have already burrowed themselves deep into the trees to protect themselves.

Temperatures would have to drop to minus 30 or lower and stay there for at least five to seven days to affect pine beetle populations between December and February.

See? Total jerks.

(via KJCT News)