Each springtime in Japan, friends and family gather under the freshly blossomed cherry trees and enjoy food and drinks while pondering the transient beauty of flowers, nature, and life. The festival, known as hanami, has been celebrated for many centuries, but authorities now fear it's coming under threat from an intruder – the red-necked longhorn beetle (Aromia bungii).
These 4-centimeter-long (1.5-inch-long) beetles are native to China, South Korea, and North Korea, but since 2012 they have been spotted more and more in Japan. They’ve now been seen on cherry trees in six of Japan’s 47 regions, known as prefectures, including the cultural hubs of Tokyo and Osaka.
Since the larvae like to feed on the cherry trees, this could be very bad news for the festival of hanami.
“If no measures are taken to address the issue, the culture of hanami will vanish from Japan within 20 to 30 years in the worst case,” Ryutaro Iwata, a professor of forestry and entomology at Nihon University’s College of Bioresource Sciences, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
But authorities are fighting back. Local governments are in the process of working with scientists to develop a pesticide that can eliminate the pest, without harming the wider ecosystem. Some local authorities have been using nets at the bottom of the trees to catch the bugs. Meanwhile, the city of Soka has taken the much simpler approach of hanging up posters that instruct locals to stomp on any big red beetles they see.