Black turpentine beetle

Natural History
Pitch tube created by the black turpentine beetle
Photo credit: North Carolina State University Archives

The black turpentine beetle (Dendroctonus terebrans) causes problems in pine trees from New Hampshire to Florida, and from West Virginia to east Texas. The common name of this insect describes its color and indicates that it frequently attacks pine trees being worked for turpentine. (For more information about the way pine pitch has historically been collected for making turpentine, see the catface page.)

Healthy trees can often fend off black turpentine beetle attacks by producing large amounts of pitch, drowning the beetles in sap. Stressed trees cannot produce large enough amounts of pitch to be effective against the beetles.

This beetle chews its way through the dead, outer bark to get to the living inner bark (phloem), where it lays eggs. As the eggs hatch, the developing larva feed on the nutrient-rich inner bark until they mature, change into the adult stage, chew their way out through the dead bark, and emerge to disperse to other trees.


Identifying Characteristics

Identifying the injury: Attacks usually occur only on the lower 3' to 8' of the tree trunk or on a tree stump. Look for ½" to 1" wide, reddish-brown to pinkish-white pitch tubes on the lower tree trunk in bark crevices. The beetles make small (1/8' to 1/4" inch wide) holes in the outer bark. The inner bark will have vertical, D-shaped, or fan-shaped galleries. The tree's needles turn from green to yellow to red to brown.
Identifying the insect: The adult beetle is dark brown to black in color, 3/8" long, and the back portion of the body is rounded. Full grown larvae are white with a reddish brown head and 1/3" long.
Susceptible trees: The black turpentine beetle can attack all southern pines. The beetle targets unhealthy or damaged trees, and newly cut pine stumps. Serious outbreaks are likely in forests being worked for turpentine, areas recently logged or thinned, and in stressed pines in urban areas.



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