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Poplar Borer Beetle (Saperda calcarata)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Poplar Borer Beetle

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Image Credit: Denny M. from Otisco, NY
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Good looks in adulthood hide the destructive nature of the tree-burrowing Poplar Borer Beetle larvae.

Updated: 02/08/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Many adult Poplar Borer Beetles have white bodies that are covered in tiny black dots or freckles. Orange-yellow marks cover the elytra (wing coverings) and also line the 'neck collar' and face. Some individuals are mostly orange with the black dots all over. All have long antennae, which is typical for members of the beetle family, Cerambycidae. Antennae tend to be the same color as the majority of the insect (white or orange).

Larvae of the Poplar Borer Beetle are a tremendous pest in North America. Females lay eggs on tree trunks. Once hatched, the larvae dig into the trunk and tunnel their way through sapwood, disrupting the flow of water and nutrients throughout the tree by girdling (cutting all the way around) branches and the trunk. Girdling strangles a tree branch or trunk.

One sign that Poplar Borer larvae are inside the tree is the presence of wet areas on the trunk that also have sawdust on or near them. The wetness comes from the leaking xylem and phloem tissues, and the sawdust is actually called frass. Frass is a mixture of tree shavings and feces. Frass may also be found piling up at the base of the tree. Another indication of persistent infiltration is a dark stain, almost like black varnish, just below areas of penetration. A single larva may need 1-2 years of growth (and tunneling) before leaving the tree as an adult.

Though it may take years, injury to the tree compounds and eventually causes the tree to die. It is unlikely that poplar trees in the Northeast, and poplars as well as cottonwood and aspen trees in the West, will ever grow to a ripe old age. Most tunneling becomes expansive and difficult to stop. Natural predators of the Poplar Borer do exist and can help reduce the impact this species has on tree mortality. Birds and insects, like parasitic wasps, feed on adults and larvae. In areas where such predators are common, trees like poplar, aspen, and cottonwood have a chance to grow a little taller and live a little longer.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
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Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Coleoptera
        Family: Cerambycidae
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          Genus: Saperda
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            Species: calcarata

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Saperda calcarata
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 18mm to 33mm (0.70" to 1.29")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: white; yellow; orange; black
Descriptors: speckled; freckled; long antennae; harmful; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 18mm (0.7in) and 33mm (1.3in)
Lo: 18mm
Md: 25.5mm
Hi: 33mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Poplar Borer Beetle may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Poplar Borer Beetle. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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