Protecting pine trees from deadly bark beetles

Trees dying from a mountain pine beetle infestation. Photo by Daniel Miller of the U.S. Forest Service.

The bark beetle forest infestations in the Western part of North America have been described as the greatest insect blight in modern times.

Bark beetles have devastated large forested areas in all 19 of the western states of the United States and provinces of Canada, leaving brown swaths of dead and dying trees on the mountainous landscapes that in some areas can stretch as far as the eye can see.

Since the 1990s, the beetles have destroyed more than 88 million acres of forests, where they can kill up to 90 percent of trees. This resulted in timber losses, increased risk of forest fire, and high costs for dead tree removal for those living in alpine communities.

But with grant support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ISCA Technologies has developed an economical, safe, organic control product for the mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae, called SPLAT VERB.

This innovation protects ponderosa, whitebark, lodgepole, Scotch, jack pine, sugar pine and limber pine trees from the damaging beetle that grows no bigger than a grain of rice.

Mountain Pine Beetle

SPLAT VERB is a paste formulation that can easily be applied to trees with a caulk gun or with a squeezable pouch. It works for homeowners, property managers and foresters alike by slowly and consistently releasing a synthetic version of the naturally-occurring repellant that the beetles themselves release in nature to signal that tree is already fully occupied.

To better understand how this innovation works, it helps to understand the bark beetle’s lifecycle.

Every summer, a new generation of beetles emerge from cocoons beneath the bark of dead or dying pine trees and embark on flights through the forests to find new host trees.

Once a group of beetles chooses a tree, they find mates and burrow through the bark to create tunnels or galleries, where they lay their eggs. These invaders also release a blue stain fungus into the sapwood that slows and eventually stops the tree’s natural defenses. The fungus curtails the tree’s ability to emit a defensive flow of sticky pitch. This allows the bark beetle eggs to hatch and the larvae to prosper. But the fungus also cuts the tree’s flow of water and nutrients, which kills the tree.

Mountain pine beetle damage beneath bark.

Once a tree is fully colonized, the beetles emit a pheromone called verbenone that tells approaching beetles that the tree has no space for them, and they should go someplace else to find mates. This chemical “no vacancy” sign ensures that each infested tree has enough inner bark tissue for the larvae to feed upon during the coming year.

ISCA has found that when the verbenone pheromone is applied to a tree before first beetles arrive in the summer, it acts as a natural repellent and thus protects the tree from bark beetle infestations.

Once applied to a tree, the SPLAT VERB formulation naturally breaks down and slowly releases a consistent amount of the verbenone to trick the bark beetles into staying away from treated trees.

SPLAT VERB also provides a “halo” effect that protects nearby trees. When the repellent formulation is applied to a tree, a protective “halo” is essentially formed around it, protecting nearby neighboring trees.

In 2014, extensive trials in California confirmed the product’s effectiveness. In collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, ISCA treated 86 sugar pines in an area near Yosemite National Park prior to the beetle’s annual flight to find new host trees. The results showed that SPLAT VERB successfully repelled the beetles and protected the trees from infestation, while untreated trees in the area showed significant levels of infestation where high beetle damage lead to the death of many of the trees.

SPLAT VERB is a completely safe product produced of food grade and environmentally friendly ingredients that only contact a small portion of the tree. The leading alternative treatment is to drench the trunk of a tree with the insecticide carbaryl. This chemical, however, is listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as carcinogenic and it is toxic to birds and other wildlife.

The EPA first approved SPLAT VERB for the commercial marketplace in 2013. It is now a safe, organic choice for homeowners, property managers, and foresters to protect pine trees.

ISCA Technologies is a biotech company based in Riverside, Calif., that develops, tests and commercializes safe, economical and environmentally-friendly integrated management solutions to crop-destroying and disease-spreading pests worldwide by exploiting pheromones and naturally-occurring compounds that influence animal behavior.

For more information please contact ISCA Communications Director David Danelski at or (951) 686-5008.




SPLAT BLOOM: Even busier bees

Suppose you could make busy bees work just a bit harder to pollinate your fruit crops?

SPLAT BLOOM does just that.

Bee on a lavender blossom by Martin Falbisoner.

This groundbreaking tool developed by ISCA Technologies for fruit and nut growers uses a naturally occurring-pheromone to increase the activity of honey bees, inducing them to pollinate more flowers and preferentially in areas where the product is applied. Its timely application at the start of flowering results in more and higher quality pollination events, increasing the potential for significantly higher crop yields.

Developed under grant support from U.S. Department of Agriculture, SPLAT BLOOM essentially focuses bees toward the desired crop areas.

SPLAT BLOOM is applied directly to the crops, in the vicinity of the flowers. It then steadily releases a pheromone called Nasonov. This is the same compound the worker bees release in nature to tell other bees they have discovered productive sources of pollen and nectar, and it also guides bees back to their hives.

The benefits of strategic SPLAT BLOOM applications include:

  • Discouraging the bees from going beyond the orchard boundaries.
  • Encouraging bees to forage at greater distances from the hive, which provide growers with greater coverage per hive.
  • Making bees forage and pollinate for longer periods of time.
  • Increasing bee activity during cooler and cloudy conditions that normally stifle their activity.
Results of trials done near Oxnard, Calif, in 2017.

During test trials in 2017 at a raspberry farm near Oxnard, Calif., fields treated with SPLAT BLOOM had a 14.9 percent higher yield when compared to neighboring control fields that were not treated with the product.

This resulted in an average increase of 175 pounds of raspberries per acre – creating a value far higher than the SPLAT BLOOM investment.

Bees normally travel as far as two miles in their search for pollen, though they are capable of going twice that far. So, applying SPLAT BLOOM is a clever way to make busy bees even more efficient at pollinating fruit and nut crops at a time commercial beehive rental cost are skyrocketing.

Increasing pollination costs have hit hard almond growers in California, in particular. Beehive rental fees have quadrupled in the past 15 years, with the average cost of renting a single hive during the almond blooming season reaching $188.53 in 2016. In 2001, the average cost was just $45.01, according to data from the California State Beekeepers Association.

These higher rental costs are in response to higher cost for beekeepers as they wrestle with the invasive Varroa mite, a bee parasite, that has infested more than 40 percent of commercial hives in the United States.

Beekeepers also still wrestle with colony collapse disorder – the yet-to-be-fully-explained phenomenon of worker bees failing to return home, leaving the queen and the developing larvae without enough resources for the colony to survive.

These challenges have resulted in losses of about 30 percent of commercial bee colonies a year — about twice the expected rate — mostly during the vulnerable winter months, according to an analysis by the University of California.

These challenges, however, do not mean the end of bees or the delicious produce that depends on them.

Beekeepers have responded by more frequently dividing their colonies to create new ones. Still, the overall number of hives has declined as commercial bees have become more costly and difficult to raise and maintain. The result has been fewer hives available to be trucked from grove to grove, and thus much higher pollination costs for growers.

SPLAT BLOOM is an economical way to increase bee pollination rates for bigger yields at a time when renting hives is becoming increasingly more expensive.

ISCA Technologies is a biotech company based in Riverside, Calif., that develops, tests and commercializes safe, economical and environmentally-friendly integrated management solutions to crop-destroying and disease-spreading pests worldwide by exploiting pheromones and naturally-occurring compounds that influence animal behavior.

For more information please contact ISCA Communications Director David Danelski at or (951) 686-5008.


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