Extension agent discovers invasive pest in South Carolina

By Tom Hallman

Eucalyptus beetleA tiny hitchhiker newly discovered in South Carolina could mean trouble for homeowners who relish the sweet smell of eucalyptus trees.  

"A homeowner brought it into the Lexington Extension office from West Columbia. I knew it was a tortoise beetle, it was just a matter of finding out what kind it was," said Vicky Bertagnolli, a Clemson Extension Extension agent in Lexington County. "Eucalyptus typically doesn't have that many pests, so it was pretty easy to find."  

Once she had identified the invasive pest as a eucalyptus leaf beetle, Bertagnolli sent photos to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and entomologists at Texas A&M and Auburn University for independent confirmation.  

Separate samples of the bugs then arrived at the Plant Problem Clinic, a part of Clemson's Regulatory Services unit, from a retail nursery in Richland County and a homeowner in Chester.  

The bugs likely hitched a ride on a shipment of eucalyptus from the other side of the continent, Bertagnolli said. They can cause extensive damage to eucalyptus leaves, potentially endangering the plant.  

"They have a big problem with the beetles on commercial eucalyptus in California," Bertagnolli said. "In South Carolina we don't have commercial eucalyptus production, but it certainly could be a problem in landscapes."  

A popular tree in home and business landscapes, the eucalyptus is prized both for its look and its aroma. It thrives in warm climates and many varieties sport an eye-catching, silvery leaf.  

The eucalyptus beetle is a regulated pest in California, but not nationally, said Sherry Autlman, who coordinates Clemson’s Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) program. Until now, it had never ventured into South Carolina.  

"They found the first species of eucalyptus beetle in Riverside County in 1998. It's in most of the counties in California now," Bertagnolli said. "A second species was discovered in Orange County in 2003, and by 2009 had found its way into four nearby counties. That's the species we found here. It had remained relatively contained until it hitched a ride east."  

Learn more about the eucalyptus leaf beetle