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New type of coconut rhino beetle on the move

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They're predators to the island's most beloved tree, and a recent discovery has Pacific entomologists concerned about how to proceed in eradication efforts of the coconut rhinoceros beetle.

It was nearly eight years ago the coconut rhino beetle was first spotted on our island paradise. "It was found on Tumon Bay on September 11, 2007," explained UOG's Dr. Aubrey Moore. "At first it was localized so we tried to eradicate it, to completely stamp it out. Unfortunately, we failed at doing that."

As the entomologist explains, Guam implemented a biological control - a virus that only attacks the pest. "It's been used all over the Pacific very successfully. Usually when you introduce the virus into the rhino beetle population, the damage is reduced by about 90%. The neat thing is it sticks around for 30 years, so it's a long-lasting control methodology," he said.

Fast forward to today, Guam's rhino beetle has proven immune to the virus, prompting the naming of a new biotype. "They found out that the Guam beetle is very different from other coconut rhinoceros beetles in the Pacific. At first we only found it on Guam. We're calling it a biotype. The coconut rhinoceros beetle Guam biotype," said Dr. Moore.

It's not only bad news for Guam but also Hawaii, Papau New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, where the Guam biotype has also been spotted. He said, "This is very worrisome to entomologists in the Pacific because we have this new type of rhino beetle that's moving around."

Guam officials are working with New Zealand to trace the Guam biotype's origin. "We need to find a biotype agent that will keep it under control it will stop the population from exploding. Right now I think we're on a cusp of seeing a huge population exploding," he said.

A population boom could be a direct result of recent weather conditions, with Moore saying, "With the typhoons moving through they've actually made lots of breeding sites in the jungle. And many of these areas we just cannot get to, to do sanitation. They're either deep in the jungle or on military bases and there's no way we can get in there and clean all of these sites."

At most 15% of Guam's coconut tree population has been killed as a result of the rhino beetle. Although the pest's wrath can be seen throughout the island, Dr. Moore says heavily damaged trees can still be saved.

Homeowners can do their part to protect their trees by using tekken netting to cover green waste piles as well as tying tekken netting in the tree's fronds. The netting prevents new bugs from emerging as well as traps bugs coming in.

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