Rhino beetle population on Guam dropping

Rhino beetle (PNC file photo)

The governor declared this week as Guam Invasive Species Awareness Week.

One species, in particular, that has plagued Guam is the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle.

So how far has Guam come in the fight against it?

The first Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle on Guam was discovered in 2007.

From the beginning, the beetle was the subject of an island-wide awareness and eradication campaign.

It proved to be an immediate threat to the island’s coconut trees.

The distinctive diamond-shaped patterns in coconut tree fronds, indicating damage from the beetle, became more and more common as it rampaged across Guam.

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Roland Quitugua, an extension agent with the University of Guam, who’s been extensively involved with efforts to eradicate the rhino beetle, gave Newstalk K57’s Patti Arroyo an update on the situation.

“We’re in a better place, we are leaps and bounds in a better place, than where we were in 2007 when we first discovered it,” Quitugua said.

Quitugua said that there have been indications and reports that coconut trees on Guam are starting to make a comeback.

He said that a number of different pieces both in the natural world and in the community’s behavior have come together to improve the situation.

As far as natural factors, he said that Guam has gone a long time without tropical storms.

Tropical storms create piles of green waste across the island. And rhino beetles use green waste as breeding grounds.

Quitugua said that even the practice of composting green waste for gardening and commercial mulching operations has been reducing the amount available to rhino beetles.

As rhino beetles consume the remaining green waste while breeding, that just reduces the amount of green waste even further.

The result is a drop in the rhino beetle population.

Improvements in both technology and methodology when it comes to measuring and capturing rhino beetles have helped as well.

However, Quitugua said that Guam isn’t out of the woods yet. And there’s still a lot to learn about the rhino beetle.

Quitugua said that the beetle has actually evolved since it was first discovered on Guam to the point that it has actually become a different beetle.

“We are still making strides towards understanding this beetle and trying to find ways and develop tools in order for us to hopefully eradicate. We’d like to at least manage at this point, and what we need is everybody to do their part,” Quitugua said.

Quitugua added that it’s important for everyone in the community to come together to battle not only the rhino beetle but other invasive species as well.

He said that government agencies can’t do it alone.

“It’s not only rhino beetle. I mean, rhino beetle’s like a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s bad for the environment, and yes it’s bad for the coconut trees. But it is the rhino beetle that has gotten everybody’s attention. Now, we as a people here in Guam, have elevated the issue of invasive species to the point that we are addressing a number of invasive species at the same time,” Quitugua said.