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    Friday, August 17, 2018-6:03:07A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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UOG seeks virus that can kill rhino beetle on Guam and Rota

THE University of Guam is exploring the possibility of introducing a virus that can kill the coconut rhinoceros beetle or CRB on Rota, Guam, Hawaii and other Pacific islands.

In an interview during the 35th Agricultural Fair at the Civic Center in Susupe on Saturday, UOG entomologist Ross Miller said the university sent CRB specialist and entomologist Aubrey Moore to Asia to look for such a virus.

Click to enlarge
Entomologist Ross Miller of the University of Guam talks about insects at the recently held 35th Agricultural Fair in Susupe.  Photo by Lori Lyn C. Lirio

“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 could kill the beetle. Once we find that, we will bring that as well to Rota,” Miller said.

Rhino beetles have been infesting Guam for almost eight years now,  he said, adding that the island has already lost 25 percent of its coconut trees. Another 30 to 40 percent have been attacked and damaged, he said.

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

He added that other islands, like Palau, lost 100 percent of their coconut trees. “It happened after World War II. They have had these beetles for a long time. The Philippines has them. They are common throughout the Pacific.”

On Rota, the rhino beetle has established a colony in the 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. They cut down many of those trees and destroyed them with the idea of eradicating the beetle. But there are still beetles flying around there, and it is not clear whether or not they have been eradicated or not. It is really hard to eradicate an insect once it has established its domain,” Miller said.

Earlier, Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Anthony Benavente reported that they were close to eradicating the coconut rhino beetle on Rota.

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

“It is really hard to eradicate them. Once the beetles are out, they are very hard to find because they can fly for miles. It could be that [DLNR has] controlled the infestation in a coconut plantation, but it could be that the beetles have gotten away. The people will have to be very vigilant for many years to make sure that the beetle has not spread.”

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

 “We just haven’t found it yet. That is the only solution to the rhino beetle problem,” Miller added. “The idea is to find the disease and release it. It will spread naturally and the beetles will spread it among themselves. It will kill the beetles. It doesn’t get rid of them, but it reduces the population to a point where they won’t be a problem anymore. That is the goal.”

 The rhino beetles found on Guam, Hawaii and Rota are immune to every eradication process they have so far tried, Miller said.

“Nothing works. We have to find a disease that will control the beetle on these islands,” he reiterated.