Wasps infesting, imperiling area’s black oaks

Julia Cumes for the Boston Globe

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Over the past year, oak crypt gall wasps have slowly killed vast swaths of black oaks from Providence to Provincetown, and University of Massachusetts Amherst entomology professor Joe Elkinton has embarked on a crash course to understand the tiny insect, whose origin, life cycle, and sudden surge in numbers remain a troubling mystery.

“This is a severe threat, and it’s almost embarrassing how little we know about it,” he said. “There are not a lot of insects that have an effect like they’re having.”

Hundreds of thousands of black oaks over more than 1,500 acres in southeastern Massachusetts, mainly on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, have shown signs of infestation this year by the gall wasps, according to aerial photos. That’s nearly 400 more acres than last year.

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