Question of the Week – Ambrosia Beetle

What caused this small, toothpick-like mass of sawdust to protrude from the trunk of this stressed peach tree?

Adult female ambrosia beetle (likely Xylosandrus spp.) tunneling into the tree.

Adult female ambrosia beetle (likely Xylosandrus spp.) tunneling into the tree.
Anna Sara Hill, ©2024, Clemson Extension

The small toothpick-like mass of sawdust protruding from the tree is often called a “frass toothpick” or “frass noodle”. The structure was created by an adult female ambrosia beetle (likely Xylosandrus spp.) tunneling into the tree.

Ambrosia beetles are members of nature’s cleanup crew. They typically attack stressed, dying, and dead trees, though some species will attack live, healthy trees. Both native and non-native ambrosia beetles are prevalent in SC. Adults are usually about 1/8 inch long, but some can be up to 1/4 inch long. They range in color from reddish brown to dark black. They are rarely seen because they spend most of their life cycle in galleries burrowed within the tree. When temperatures warm to 70 °F, adult females emerge from an infested tree and find a new tree to invade.  The female uses her specialized mandibles to chew into tree bark, through the phloem and into the xylem, where she continues forming a gallery (tunnel). As the female burrows, she pushes excrement and wood particles out of the entrance hole, which sticks together and forms toothpick-like structures. The entrance holes are perfectly round and about 2 mm wide. As the female excavates the gallery, she also introduces fungal spores, which rub off her body and onto the insides of the gallery. The fungi grows inside the gallery and serves as a food source for her future brood. The ambrosia fungi help break down the wood.

After the gallery is ready and the fungus has colonized the walls, the female lays a mass of tiny, white, translucent eggs. The size of the egg mass is dependent on the gallery space and the amount of “ambrosia fungus” available. After hatching from the eggs, the larvae feed on the fungus instead of the undigestible wood. The larvae undergo several molts prior to pupating and transforming into adults. The sex ratio is 1 to 10, male to female. The males are wingless and remain in the gallery their whole life. Winged females mate with males prior to leaving the gallery in search of a new host, though some females are parthenogenic (meaning they don’t have to mate to produce viable eggs). The females exit the same hole that their mother entered. The entire life cycle from egg to adult takes between 55-60 days during the hot, humid summers in the Southeast. Under these conditions, there are generally 2 generations per summer. The females overwinter in the galleries and begin moving out during the months of February and March.

Ambrosia beetles are usually not considered major pests because they typically select dead and dying trees to attack. They are unlikely to infest newly planted fruit trees unless the trees are significantly stressed. The best control measure is to ensure trees remain healthy and to monitor for damage. If damage is detected on young trees, the following year in early February, set out ethanol traps at the perimeter of the orchard. When the beetles are caught in the traps, spray pyrethroids on the tree trunks to protect the trees. After March, the need to treat decreases. If no damage is seen, it is unnecessary to set traps or treat in the following year.

For more information, see HGIC 2018, Ambrosia Beetle.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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