Skip to content
Subscriber Only

A Tiny Beetle Is Killing an Urban Forest and There's No Solution

  • At risk: avocados, Johannesburg’s tree canopy, iconic oaks
  • The pest has rapidly spread across the width of South Africa
A polyphagous shot hole borer
A polyphagous shot hole borerPhotographer: Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Updated on

A black beetle the size of a sesame seed is killing South Africa’s trees, and no one knows how to stop it.

After arriving from Southeast Asia about four years ago, the polyphagous shot-hole borer has spread a thousand miles across South Africa, from the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg, where it was discovered in 2017, to indigenous forests on the west coast near Cape Town. An unwelcome side effect of globalization, the pest is believed to have arrived along with wood pellets on a ship.