Flatheaded Borers

Insect Type:

Plants Affected:

Images of This Insect:

Flatheaded appletree borer Larvae (photo: James Solomon)

Flatheaded or metallic wood borer Adult (photo: Bob Oakes)

other Adult Flatheaded appletree borer (photo: Joseph Berger)


Flatheaded borers are beetle larvae that tunnel just under the bark of tree trunks, branches and roots.  They excavate shallow, winding tunnels through the tree phloem and outer sapwood.  Evidence of flatheaded borer infestation is a series of sawdust-filled galleries on the inside of loose bark pulled from injured, dying or dead trees.  The most common flatheaded borer is the flatheaded appletree borer.  Flatheaded borers are up to 1 inch in length, white, deeply segmented and legless.  There is a prominent flattened enlargement of the otherwise-slender body just behind the head.

Life Cycle

Larvae live inside the tree for 1 year under most circumstances but the life cycle may take longer under certain conditions.  The adults are called metallic wood-boring beetles, referring to the attractive, metallic or iridescent color of many common species.  The adult beetles emerge from infested trees by chewing out through the bark.  They typically begin in May and continue to emerge for a period of several weeks.  Adults are attracted to weakened, injured, dead or dying trees and stumps.  Females lay their eggs on the bark, in bark crevices or at the edges of wounds.  Eggs hatch in about a week and each tiny borer chews into the tree to feed on living tissue in and surrounding the cambium layer.  Larvae remain inside the tree through the winter then pupate the following spring before emerging as adults to repeat the cycle 


Trees infested with flatheaded borers look unthrifty because of scant foliage, dead branches, and dead areas of the main trunk or larger branches where loose bark can be easily pulled off.  Unfortunately, by the time infestation symptoms are obvious the tree has been severely weakened and recovery is unlikely.


The best management for flatheaded borers is prevention.  Avoid borers by maintaining trees in vigorous condition.  Actions that promote tree health include site and species selection, proper planting, mulching, watering as needed, fertilizer to correct nutrient deficiencies and active defense against injury (lawn mowers, trimmers, root disruption, etc.).  Eliminate sources of beetles by pruning and removing dead and dying limbs and trees.  Tree wraps are of little or no benefit in preventing borers.  Use wraps with care; periodically check under wraps for injury.

  Once borers have infested a tree they are difficult to control.  External sprays are only effective if applied to the tree when the adult beetles are active and laying eggs.  Because emergence and egg laying can occur over a long period of time, monthly or more frequent insecticide applications may be needed over the course of a summer.  Homeowner use of insecticides is not practical.