By Forester Russ Richardson
Yellow poplar weevils are again causing damage to the foliage of yellow poplar trees across central West Virginia. Damage is readily noticeable to anyone who has driven I-79 or I-77 in the past couple weeks.
The last time poplar weevils caused extensive damage to local trees was during the summer of 2012 when any surface beneath poplar trees became coated with a slimy black mold that stuck like glue and made many hard topped roads slick to drive on and exceptionally dangerous to motorcycles.
In 2012 it took a while to figure out what was causing damage to the yellow poplars because the poplar weevils had been very uncommon for almost fifty years (since the 1960s) and no one was working in the forest pest field that had encountered them in damaging numbers like we experienced locally.
The typical shotgun pattern that results in leaves full of holes caused by the feeding of adult weevils on the young poplar buds as they open in the spring.
This year the additional browning and dying of poplar leaves observed in many areas is caused by the extremely small yellow poplar weevil larvae “mining” the leaves and destroying them by “mining” or eating the inside middle portion of the leaf.
It is hoped that 2015 is the peak year for defoliation and damage to poplar foliage but only time will tell. Unlike gypsy moths that leave large egg masses on host trees or forest tent caterpillars that leave egg masses on cherry twigs, there is no practical way to inventory woodland for a potential yellow poplar weevil infestation or outbreak.