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Creature Feature

A Jewel That is More Curse Than Treasure 

By Wayne Bierbaum 

Many years ago, around 1987, I bought a small wooden jewel box for my wife. I remember that it was an unusual wood but I don’t remember where it was made.  

A few days after presenting it to her, my wife noticed that the box “clicked”. After several days, a tiny bit of sawdust showed up on the dresser. I presumed that a boring beetle larva was chewing through the well-made box. The clicking stopped after the box was put in a 325-degree oven for 15 minutes.  

Maybe, my wife and I stopped some foreign invading bug? Considering the emerald ash borer was discovered in the United States in 2002, I might be right. 

What reminded me of “the jewel box incident” was the presence of a species of jewel beetle I found on a sidewalk recently. Jewel beetles are shiny colorful bugs whose larvae chew tunnels through wood and the adult typically lives under loose bark. 

The beetle I found was a Buprestis rufipes or the red-legged buprestis. They are uncommon but are present throughout the eastern U.S. The larvae, called flat-head borers, eat through maple, oak, elm, beech, and blackgum. Their tunnels damage the wood and reduces the hardwood’s value. It takes the larvae several years to become adults. They are larger than most jewel beetles. The one I found was almost an inch long. The adults do not sting or bite and are impressively metallic appearing.  

The beetle reminded me of the emerald ash borer and the destruction it has brought to forests throughout North America. In ten short years, the Patuxent River watershed has lost most of the swamp ash. Bare, dead trees are visible all along the river. 

The emerald ash borer attacks the transport layers under the bark of trees which causes leaf die-back and then death of the tree. The next year, adults emerge from the dying trees and fly off to lay eggs by the thousands in the bark of the next victim.  

The adult beetles are a half inch long and metallic green. Their shape is about the same as the buprestis beetle. When the tree is dying or dead, the tracks of the beetle borers can be seen just under the bark.  

To help prevent their spread, collected firewood should not be transported to other areas and if you see a beetle or their damage report it to the Maryland Department of Agriculture at (410) 841-5920.