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UOG proposes solution to beetle battle

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They're a predator to Guam's most beloved trees, and despite a decade's worth of efforts to control the coconut rhinoceros beetle, researchers are still looking for answers.  "Rhino beetles have only been eradicated once in history," said UOG etymologist Dr. Aubrey Moore.

Locally, the battle of the bug continues. According to Dr. Moore, Guam's genotype of coconut rhinoceros beetle has local researchers stumped. That's why they're calling for backup. "What we want to do is mount an expedition to go to these places and find a virus that's attacking beetles, our genotype of beetle," he shared. "We think we have a good chance of finding that isolate of the virus. If so, we'll bring it over here and introduce it."

The rhino beetle was first introduced to Guam in 2007. Fast forward to today, the invasive species can be found throughout the island despite efforts to control their population. According to Dr. Moore, they've tried everything...including detector dogs.

"Here on Guam we decided we're going to need help finding those last few breeding sites at the end of the eradication program. We actually had teams of dogs and handlers trained to find rhino beetle grubs. 0638 the dogs would sniff up the grubs and then we would find the breeding sites," he said.

Then there were tracking devices and tiny transmitters were glued to the backs of beetles, with Moore describing, "Why not use the beetles themselves to find the breeding sites?"

Findings showed Guam's populations are out of control. "We have a big outbreak of adult beetles right now. My big worry is that we have enough beetles flying around and they're starting to kill trees in massive numbers. This will create even more food for the immatures. It may not end until most of our trees are gone," he said.

Moore's hope is to launch the expedition in the next year. Already they've received $100,000 from the USDA, but it's going to take at least $4 million to sustain the program for at least four years. "We're thinking that some of the money could come from an international donor such as the United Nations. Because this is a very big important problem for the Pacific. If it gets to some of the atolls those people are going to suffer more than anybody. Because coconut is still the tree of life on those islands," Moore said.

If a virus is identified, it could bring beetle damage down by 90%. For more information on the coconut rhinoceros beetle, visit http://www.cnas-re.uog.edu.

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