Municipalities and prefectures are hoping they can stop the dreaded red-necked longhorn beetle before they get out of hand.

Many ecologists are warning that much of Japan is on the brink of a natural disaster in the form of the red-necked longhorn beetle (Aromia bungii). Not native to Japan but popping up in Osaka, Tokyo, Tokushima, Saitama, Gunma, and Tochigi, these insects are believed to have made their way here from China or the Korean Peninsula via cargo ships.

Although they pose no threat to humans, these creatures can have a devastating effect on many of Japan’s favorite flowering trees such as sakura (cherry) and ume (Japanese apricot). Adult red-necked longhorns emerge during the summer months and lay eggs in cracks along the trunks of these trees. The larvae then hatch and begin to gnaw away at the wood for a period of one to three years.

Even worse, their depth inside the tree is right where many of the nutrients pass through, which means the tree cannot gain sustenance and beings to wither away, while simultaneously being eaten from the inside. A red-necked longhorn was only discovered in Osaka for the first time this June but already a cherry tree had succumbed to them and needed to be cut down.

▼ Red-necked longhorns are identified by their red necks, long horn-like antennae and unimaginative name

Experts warn that since these insects have no natural predators in Japan and can lay about 300 eggs at a time, their population has the potential to explode and wreak real havoc on the nation’s prettiest trees. So, some have taken steps to nip the problem in the bud and contain these invading beasts.

Sakai City has begun an open call for “black hunters” who can report sightings of red-necked longhorns so officials can monitor their movements. Any hunter who can send them a picture of the bug taken in the city along with the location and time, will get a free gift. They also kindly ask that you kill the longhorn right after taking its picture if possible.

Tokushima Prefecture, however, has been harder hit by the red-necked longhorn and has upped the ante considerably. First, the Tokushima Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Technology Support Center crowdfunded 5.5 million yen (US$50,000) to tackle the problem and will use part of that money to offer a 500 yen ($4.50) reward per insect to those who catch red-necked longhorns and bring them in – dead or alive presumably.

Netizens were all too eager to jump on the seemingly lucrative offer:

“A kid on summer vacation could really clean up with this!”
“So…what if I were to breed these things?”
“Well, looks like I’m going to Tokushima next week!”
“Invasive species are no joke. These things could wipe out our cherry blossoms and domestic ume production.”
“Anyone who gets fired from their job can just head over to the park.”

Amid all this clamor, we can probably expect Japan’s first and foremost bug-hunter, Teruyuki Kagawa to enter the fray. Born of a prestigious kabuki bloodline but shunned by his estranged father, Kagawa still went on to become an award-winning film and television actor.

However, it was perhaps in his role as Kamakiri Sensei on the NHK show Konchu Sugoi Ze! (Insects are Awesome!), in which he travels around Japan finding insects, that he is most loved.

It won’t be long before we can expect him to run his praying mantis claw down a chalkboard and tell everyone, “Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’. I’ll catch this bug for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad bug. Not like going down the pond chasin’ dragonflies and water striders. I value my neck a lot more than 500 yen, chief. I’ll find them for five, but I’ll catch them, and kill them, for ten.”

Of course, both Kagawa and those online would largely be out of luck because according to media, the 500-yen offer only appears to be aimed at local university students. That being said, they’d probably make an exception for Kamakiri Sensei in an effort to raise awareness to the problem.

However it works out, hopefully they’ll succeed in curbing the advent of the red-necked longhorn, because a Japan without sakura and ume would be like a Mr. Sato without shirt and pants – a bleak landscape indeed.

Source: Sakai City, Asahi Shimbun, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Wikipedia/Rolf Dietrich Brecher (Edited by SoraNews24)
Insert images: Wikipedia/Luojie, Sakai City