Environment News

Virus wanted to kill beetles in Saipan

By Lori Lyn Lirio

Rhino beetle. Image by USDA APHIS

UNIVERSITY of Guam scientists are exploring the possibility of introducing virus to coconut rhinoceros beetle population to control its growth on Rota, Guam, Hawaii and other Pacific islands.

In an interview with UOG entomologist Ross Miller during the 35th Agricultural Fair held at the Civic Center in Susupe early this month, he said the UOG sent CRB specialist and entomologist Aubrey Moore in Asia to look for diseases or virus that can kill the rhino beetle, which have been infesting the coconut trees on Guam and Hawaii for years.

“In Guam, the rhino beetle is there to stay. There is no solution for it at the moment. We are going around Asia looking for diseases that we can bring back to Guam that would kill the beetle. Once we find that, we will bring that as well Rota,” Miller said.

Rhino beetles have been infesting Guam for almost eight years now, according to Miller. He said they have lost 25 percent of coconut trees. Another 30 to 40 percent have been attacked and damaged.

“It is possible that we could lose maybe 80 to 90 percent of the coconuts,” Miller said.

He added some small islands, like Palau, have lost 100 percent of their coconuts.

“It happened after World War II. They have these beetles for a long time. The Philippines has them. It is

common throughout the Pacific.”

In Rota, the rhino beetle has established its colony in old copra plantation down by the Wedding Cake hill in the southern part of the island.

“The workers have tried to cut all the trees that are infested. It cut down many of those trees and destroyed them with the idea of eradicating the beetle. There are still beetle flying around there and it is not clear whether or not they eradicated it or not. It is really hard to eradicate an insect once it established its domain,” Miller said.

Earlier, Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Anthony Benavente reported they are close to eradicating the coconut rhino beetle, which have been festering the coconut plantation in October 2017.

Miller advised the people on Rota to be vigilant on the possible new infestations.

“It is really hard to eradicate it. Once the beetles are out, they are very hard to find because they can fly for miles. It could be that they control the infestation in a coconut plantation but it could be that the beetles have gotten away from that. They will have to be very vigilant for many years to make sure that the beetle has not spread,” he said.

The long-term solution, according to Miller, is to find a viral control agent such as fungus or virus that would kill the beetle.

Miller expressed confidence that introducing a virus to the colony would work very well, “except that we have not found the virus.”

“In Asia, there is a virus somewhere that will kill the beetle. We just haven’t found it yet. That is the only solution for rhino beetle,” Miller added.

“The idea is to find the disease, release it. It spread naturally as the beetle will spread it among themselves. It will kill the beetles. It doesn’t get rid of them but it puts the populations down really low. So they are not the problem anymore. That is the goal.”

The rhino beetle they found in Guam, Hawaii and Rota are immune to every eradication process they did.

“We tried everything and nothing works. We have to find a new disease that will control the beetle on these islands,” Miller said.

The UOG has sent its Agriculture and Natural Resources assistant professor and entomologist Aubrey Moore in the Philippines and will travel in Taiwan in a quest to look for viruses.

“He is working with virus expert from new Zealand to isolate the strains of virus that would kill the beetle. So far, they have not found anything. They keep on looking. They have to keep looking. They are very confident that there is a disease out there that will work – a virus that will be virulent. That is really the only option,” Miller said.


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Lori Lyn Lirio
Lori Lyn C. Lirio is a veteran newshen having worked for the People's Journal Tonight for more than 10 years. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications degree from the Lyceum of the Philippines University. She currently writes for the Marianas Variety, Saipan's number one community paper. .

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