Photo by KEN FRY/OLDS COLLEGE Adult mountain pine beetle or Dendroctonus ponderosae, collected in Grande Prairie from the Olds College insect collection.

Cold snap likely killing mountain pine beetle in central Alberta – but not all of them

There may be an upside to the cold snap.

As the bitter cold is getting to central Albertans, it is also likely getting to the invasive, tree-killing mountain pine beetles.

Ken Fry, an Olds College instructor at the School of Animal Science and Horticulture, said the deep freeze has an impact on the insect, but not a significant one. This means the cold will kill off some beetles, but it won’t eradicate them.

The creatures were found in forests just outside Rocky Mountain House last year. They were also discovered in Clearwater County in traps set by the Sundre branch of the West Fraser logging company.

Fry said the bugs produce antifreeze in their bodies during winter, which protects them. But they may not survive in severe temperatures, like the ones during this cold snap.

He explained the antifreeze can only go so far, much like winter coats that humans wear, which may not withstand severe temperatures compared to mild temperatures.

The severe temperatures, particularly around October or March, also get to them — when they’re not as “winter ready.”

“(Severe temperatures mean) there will be higher levels of mortality, but you have to understand there’s thousands and millions of them,” said Fry.

This means the cold winter temperatures will slow their progression in central Alberta, but not kill them off completely.

Tom Daniels, Sundre forestry superintendent for West Fraser, echoed Fry’s thoughts. He said the slow progression buys more time, which is good news.

“But they have a propensity to build population so quickly, so if you don’t kill at least 95 per cent of the population, it’s just a setback for them,” said Daniels.

The insects enter Alberta through B.C., where they have decimated forests before attacking those around Jasper.

Daniels said the Jasper area is also under a deep freeze, but that just means the population will take a hit, but not die off completely.

“Unless we’re able to see sustained cold.”

It’s not a case of if the beetles will infest central Alberta, it’s when, Daniels said.

The species is prominent in northern Alberta, Fry said, in the jack pine forests.

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An infested tree showing signs of trees sap being extruded through holes in the trunk. (Contributed photo).

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