You didn’t have to look far earlier this summer to see bare trees thanks to an abundance of gypsy moths. And if you’re in Worcester County, you’re probably well acquainted with the Asian Longhorned Beetle. Then you’ve got the Emerald Ash Borer and other invasive insects eating their way through Massachusetts.

It’s all about bugs, larva and pupa here at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Otis Lab, tucked away on Joint Base Cape Cod. Or as lab director David Lance puts it, “We’re charged with protecting American agricultural and natural ecosystems from invasive plant pests.”

That mission includes eradicating invasive species like the Asian Longhorned Beetle and Emerald Ash Borers, insects that have devastated trees by bulldozing their way through wood. One method the Otis Lab is working on is bio control, which involves using parasites to reduce the population control of these wood-boring pests.

Lab technician Breanne Aflague is excited about a new addition to their lab, the Dastarcus Helophoroides.

It is a parasitic beetle that parasitizes the Asian Longhorned Beetle, which is really promising right now. We have the adults here, and they’re very small, and they lay eggs.” She continued, “When the eggs hatch, they have these little legs on the larva, and the larva will physically crawl to the host, which in this case is the Asian Longhorned Beetle. And when they find the host, they paralyze it. And you can tell. It’s very obvious. They’ll devour the whole host.”

Larva feeding on larva is wild.

It very much is,” said Aflague. “But it’s neat in the respect that it’s a very promising control for the Asian Longhorned Beetle as it could be something that’s very good for us, especially in the Northeast.”

That’s because areas of the Northeast have been battling these guys for a long time. The Greater Worcester area is now in its 8th year of its Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication program. It’s a rigorous program that involves 100 people from both the USDA and the Massachusetts DCR. They go out every day year round and survey 110 quarantined square miles of oak trees for egg laying sites and exit holes.

Another parasite the Otis Lab is researching is the Spathius wasp. The USDA released millions of these tiny bugs this past spring to curb the destruction of the Emerald Ash Borer. They don’t sting humans but their larva are the borer’s worst nightmare.

The larva will be underneath the bark and the spathius will deposit through the bark and parasitize the larva,” said Aflague.

Yes, more larva on larva action, which could be promising moving forward. Since the damage is already done with 38 million Emerald Ash trees decimated nationwide, wasps like the Spathius could be an effective way to control future populations. Because if there’s anything these invasive insects have taught us, it’s that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.