Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Battle

Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Battle

Coconut rhinoceros beetles (CRB) are native to the Asian tropics and were accidentally introduced to western and central Pacific islands, and now to Hawaii. They are known to be a major pest on palm trees in India, the Philippines, Guam, the Samoas and elsewhere. First detected on the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) military facility near Honolulu airport in December 2013, specialists have since detected other adults in the same vicinity and 2 breeding sites in compost piles at the golf course on the base.

Circled in red are 3 bore holes made by CRB. Photo courtesy of dlnr.hawaii.gov.

Circled in red are 3 bore holes made by CRB. Photo courtesy of dlnr.hawaii.gov.

Adult beetles bore into coconut and other palms at the crown, injuring young, growing tissue to feed on the sap. Younger trees are more vulnerable than mature trees, and damage can reduce coconut output and eventually kill the trees.

Coconut palms are vital to Hawaii’s ecosystem, scenery and nursery industry. Not only are they valued for their aesthetic appeal, these trees are of cultural importance to Pacific Islanders. CRB has also been identified feeding on sugar cane, papaya, sisal, pineapple, taro and date palms; all plants of economic, agricultural and environmental value. If these pests make it to the continental U.S., damages will be in the millions of dollars annually.

Adult beetles are  1 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches long and shiny, dark brown in color. They can be 3/4 to 1 inch white and have a horn on their head, the male’s is larger than that of the female. Larvae are white with brown heads. They prefer breeding sites with decaying vegetation and standing or fallen dead coconut trees.

In Hawaii this threat is being surveyed, trapped and controlled by a joint effort among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the U.S. Navy and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. They have established an Incident Command System to facilitate communication and manage data among the various agencies and partners in order to respond efficacious.