Bed bugs are infesting our beds, city squares, lingerie stories, movie theaters and even our computers. (In a sense – Google reported bed bugs in their New York offices this week.) But another insect infestation has experts just as worried. As the New York Times reports, much of North America is fighting a devastating infestation by the emerald ash borer — and it is a fight the bugs will likely win.

Since the emerald ash borer beetle was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, it has swept across the forests of North America, essentially killing everything in sight. The insect, which is native to China, is believed to have arrived in the packaging of motor parts shipments in Michigan. Since its move to the continent, it has crossed the upper Midwest into Canada. The insect has left millions of dead ash trees in its wake.

Adult beetles like to dine on ash tree leaves but do little harm to the trees. It is their larvae that are taking down the foliage. The larvae burrow into a tree, killing it within one to three years by disrupting the tree's ability to transport water and food. The larvae have destroyed millions of trees in Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Quebec, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The price of this infestation has skyrocketed, and authorities estimate it has cost nurseries, municipalities, property owners, and forest industries tens of millions of dollars. And the infestation has the potential to get much worse. Entomologists report that the insect could kill all 7 billion ash trees in North America, driving them to complete extinction.

Mark C. Whitmore is an expert on the ash borer at Cornell. As he told the NY Times, “I’ve been a forest entomologist for 30 years, and I had no idea anything as bad as this could ever happen. The only worse thing would be the spread of the Asian longhorn beetle.”

What can be done to stop such a mass extinction? For now, authorities are urging people to leave their firewood at home while traveling. It is believed that the rapid spread of the bugs came from people transporting untreated firewood. Wood that has not been kiln-dried to meet industry standards may contain the infected insects.

Marilyn Wyman of the Cornell Cooperative Extension works to educate people about the emerald ash borer in the Catskills, which reported the bugs in 2009. As she told the NY Times, “Nobody knows how it’s going to impact the overall function and composition of the forest. You can’t continue to take pieces out of the system and not have something happen.” Ultimately, authorities hope that the publicity of the bed bug may spill over into an awareness of this equally devastating infestation.

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