New coconut rhino beetle invading Pacific islands

Guam and CNMI participants of the XXVth International Congress of Entomology in Orlando, Florida on Sept. 25-30, 2016. (Contributed Photo)

Guam and CNMI participants of the XXVth International Congress of Entomology in Orlando, Florida on Sept. 25-30, 2016. (Contributed Photo)

During the XXVth International Congress of Entomology in Orlando, Florida (Sept. 25-30, 2016), the largest gathering of its kind ever held, scientists met in a special symposium to find answers to the problem of invasive scarab beetles, damaging species that are spreading around the globe. The meeting was timely, with reports of a new, highly damaging biotype of the coconut rhinoceros beetle recently established in a number of Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, and reports of the ornamental and turf damaging Japanese beetle established for the first time on the European continent in Italy. The scientists were concerned that increasing international transport and new races of pests are challenging our quarantine systems and will result in severe and ongoing damage once they break through.

A new biotype of the coconut rhinoceros beetle poses a special threat. The pest has invaded Guam, where entomologist Dr. Aubrey Moore predicts that if effective control measures cannot be found more than 50 percent of the palms on the island will be killed by the pest. The damaging beetle was found to belong to a new biotype by AgResearch New Zealand scientist Dr. Sean Marshall and has since been found causing heavy damage on a number of other Pacific Islands. The beetle has established a beachhead in Hawaii where Project Operations Manager Dr. Darcy Oishi is running a multi-million dollar program to contain and eradicate the pest.

Representative of the Pacific Community, Dr. Maclean Vaqalo, said the real threat is to the small countries and atolls of the Pacific where the coconut tree is the “tree of life,” providing essential food and shelter to the people. If nothing is done to help the small island states in the Pacific to contain the pest it will simply re-invade the cleared areas and may even reach the American continents.

A special meeting was called by Phil Andreozzi of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to take advantage of the presence of the assembled scientists to develop a plan to address the problem of the coconut rhinoceros beetle in the Pacific. The expert team began work on an operational framework and established working groups to increase awareness of the problem, plan emergency responses, enhance biosecurity, and look for long-term biological solutions. Participants were pleased with the meeting and the opportunity offered by ICE to start to address the problem in a coordinated fashion to overcome this severe threat as soon as possible.

Guam was represented at the meeting by University of Guam entomologists Dr. Aubrey Moore and Dr. Ross Miller.

Press Release
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