Imagine the Southern California skyline without the presence of majestic date palms and tall, slender Washingtonia fan palms.
That's what a few landscape professionals, palm enthusiasts and scientists are worried about, following the discovery last month of a destructive new pest in a Laguna Beach neighborhood.
For the first time ever, the red palm weevil, a beetle native of Southeast Asia, was discovered alive and well in the United States. The host was a Canary Island date palm in the Emerald Terrace neighborhood of north Laguna Beach.
Rhynchophorus ferrugineus is considered one of the most destructive palm pests in the world. Nick Nisson, Orange County's entomologist at the County Agricultural Commissioner's Office, identified the invader after a palm removal crew became curious about the unusual-looking insects.
Red palm weevils are relatively large and rusty red. Adult beetles lay about 200 eggs on the new growth at a palm's crown. But it is its larvae that cause most of the problems for palms. Impossible to see, the juvenile larvae feed on the soft fibers inside the palm, tunneling through the trunk for about a month, before they pupate, emerge as adult beetles and fly away in search of another palm. The larva's burrowing activity usually kills the host palm.