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Endangered species in Sacramento

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The Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle, which thrives in Sacramento, is getting closer to being taken off the endangered species list.

The beetle was named after the Elderberry plant, which is the main habitat of the insect.

Al Donner, assistant field supervisor for external affairs from the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Service, said the beetle was placed on the Federal Threatened List on Aug. 8, 1980. Since then, work has been done to help the beetles grow and repopulate.

Sacramento has proven to be a vital home for these creatures because Elderberry plants grow best in flood plain areas like the river beds of the Sacramento and American Rivers. The stability of these plants are essential for the beetle, since it spends the majority of its life growing beneath its bark.

The beetles grow to about one inch long with antennas that grow to close to the same length as their bodies. They are mainly black except for a little red and orange coloring on their wings, which is more apparent on males.

These small beetles have four developmental stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult.

"The beetles spends most of their lives in the Elderberry plant," Donner said. "They eat the inside of the stem and eventually drill their way out and mate, ending their life cycle."

The Elderberry beetles are known to reemerge from the bark beginning late March to June up to two years after they hatch, which is also when the Elderberry plant goes into bloom. The only evident trace these beetles leave behind is an exit hole in the stem of the plant.

"The critical way to find them is from stem ‘sawdust’ at the foot of the stem," Donner said.

The beetles will only pick plants to inhabit if they have a stem that is an inch thick or bigger. Their habitation of the plant does not hurt it. Donner said that the plant grows so quickly that it remains unharmed.

Over the past couple of decades, making sure the plant survived has been a main part of bringing the beetles’ numbers back up. Donner said the loss of these plants and "natural human growth has diminished their habitat."

To help stop the loss of these insects and their habitat, Donner said that there has been the extensive planting of Elderberry plants and thousands of acres set aside by the federal and state governments, as well as by local cities and private organizations that have helped their growth.

Today, there are 4,600 acres along American River Parkway alone for the habitation of the insects. Though there is no way to know the exact number of beetles existing in areas such as this, protection of the land has increased their rate of survival.

There are also areas devoted to the beetles’ habitats within the city. Near the railyards around G Street, there is a fenced-off area with a placard announcing the existence of the threatened species and that the habitat is to remain undisturbed.

Donner said that if these beetle habitats interfered with building, once the situation was assessed, relocation of the host plants has been a priority if the plant could not be worked into the development plans.

Overall, the beetles’ success is significant, because in 1980, when they were placed on the endangered list, their habitat was diminished 50 percent in Sacramento and to extremes of 80-100 percent in places like San Joaquin.

The results have been so good over the past few years that on Feb. 14, 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that the beetle be taken off the endangered list.

"It’s exciting," Donner said. "A proposal is being worked on to take them off the federal list by the end of the fiscal year."

Though it is a big process to officially remove the Elderberry Longhorn Beetle from the endangered list, Donner said that once the proposal is complete, they will officially submit it, which will open the issue to the public for comment, and after all that, everything will be made formal.

The Elderberry Longhorn Beetle has demonstrated that even an insect species can be saved from extinction.





Photos by:
US Fish & Wildlife Service photo by Meghan Gilbart, CSU Chico
1. Adult Female Elderberry Longhorn Beetle
2. Fresh Elderberry Longhorn Beetle exit hole plugged with wood shavings by soon-to-emerg beetle
3. Protected habitat near railyard on G Street. (photo
by Sierra Barroza)

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Sierra Barroza

  • Dale Kooyman

    “Their habitation of the plant does not hurt it. Donner said that the plant grows so quickly that it remains unharmed.”

    That is good to know but does the article state how or why the beetle is essential to our ecological balance? That is important to know.

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