SA Country Life

The Beetles Have Landed

There is a signboard outside an historic church in the town of George beseeching visitors not to park their cars in the shade of a massive English oak tree. Erected by the George Heritage Trust, the signboard notes that this particular oak was planted outside the NG Moedergemeente Church in 1884, and that by parking beneath it there’s a risk that the weight of cars could compact the soil and harm the tree. But now it’s dead, killed earlier this year not by the weight of vehicles on its 136-year-old root system, but by an infestation of tiny alien beetles, and a fungus.

In Sandton, Johannesburg, entire avenues of trees have suffered the same fate because of the alien invasion by millions of beetles that are munching trees across South Africa. And, for now, there is little that can be done to eradicate them. Each beetle is barely two millimetres long (smaller than a matchstick head), but they all have established a firm beachhead and continue to advance, while the government ponders how to respond to this unprecedented invasion.

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