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Coconut rhino beetles eating their way through Guam

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They're fondly called the tree of life. From the bottom of their trunk to the tips of their leaves, our ancestors used the coconut tree for food, clothing, shelter, and even medicine. Today, the coconut tree is that and so much more. Ecologically, the tree holds down our shorelines and economically, the tree serves as the ideal island backdrop that draws millions of tourists to our beaches annually.

The beloved tree, however, is being threatened by a beetle introduced to the island nearly a decade ago.  

They feed on Guam's most beloved greenery and their appetites are deadly. Little horns and a hard shell body, they're appropriately called coconut rhinoceros beetle. Prior to making Guam their home in 2007, the beetle was reported in many parts of Asia including the Philippines and was accidentally introduced to Palau, Samoa, and Australia. Although they were initially found in Tumon, Guam's seen the species islandwide and spikes in the population as a result of heavy winds and rains from typhoons that leave mounds of green waste - the ideal place for beetle breeding.

The adult beetles feed on the heart of the tree which explains why affected trees have triangular sections when they open. Severe attacks by the rhino beetle kill the palm and have resulted in dozens of trees to be cut down islandwide. That's why it's going to take an islandwide effort to beat the beetle and save the coconut tree. You at home can do your part by getting informed from sites like http://www.cnas-re.uog.edu. You can also manage green waste around your home and protect your palms by making traps with supplies found at hardware stores.

University of Guam Cooperative Extension Service Extension agent Roland Quitugua told KUAM News, "Ppeople have good intentions but they don't understand the basic principles and biology about this beetle and its interaction with the tree and its environment. For example, people think the coconut trees are dying so we need to plant more coconut trees."

And expect to be seeing more of Quitugua and his team in 2016. He said, "My goal for 2016 is to be doing more village meetings and to be developing more outreach to the schools and working with them so we can educate the public more. Because in the past our problem has been that we did not have any control strategies or methods. We had a hard time understanding why this beetle was not responding to traditional control methods. But now we have a better understanding."

Ultimately, controlling invasive species like the rhinoceros beetle is everyone's responsibility, with Quitugua adding, "Everyone has to do their part and that's what's important. Invasive species is everyone's responsibility. And the impacts - what are the impacts? Its far reaching. If we lose our coconut trees, they're the ones that hold the shoreline for storm surges. And now we're talking about climate change. We're talking about weather events. So what's going to hold the shorelines?"

If you want more information on the program, call 735-2080.

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