Beetle infestation spreads, nearly 170 trees to be destroyed

As a destructive pest that targets palm trees spreads farther west on Oahu, close to 170 trees at a military base on the island will have to be destroyed.

The destruction left by the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle can be plainly seen at Mamala Bay Golf Course on Hickam Air Force Base.

A tree line on the fairway of the 13th hole will soon be taken down, riddled with holes bored by beetles close to the top of the trees.

Pink ribbons mark the trees that have been infected and, on the golf course alone, 85 tree will be cut down.

Another 81 trees outside of the course, but on the Air Force installation, will also be destroyed, and to prevent further spread of the pest, officials will incinerate the infected trees.

“When the incinerators are brought in, I’ve been told five to six weeks from now,” said Tom Clements, Navy Environmental Public Affairs Officer for the Hawaii Region. “And yes, it will be done on site.”

The beetle has made its way from the base, where it was first discovered last December, out west, and now can be found at the Campbell Industrial Park.

Inspectors found a beetle in a trap along Malakole St., and that discovery has widened the area where inspectors are hunting down the beetle to more than 30 square miles.

The beetle traps emit a pheromone and that attracts the beetle to a possible mating opportunity and to the possibility of food in the trap. The beetles fly at night, and these traps also emit a light to guide the beetle to the traps.

“We’re still working to eradicate the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle,” said Rob Curtiss, Acting Plant Pest Control Branch Manager with the state Department of Agriculture. “Everywhere we know where we have it, we’re dealing with those breeding sites, and the trees that have been damaged.”

The state says the military is teaming up to battle the beetle. The state agriculture department has added 32 more people and the military has also set up barrel traps along the golf course.

Another tell-tale sign of an infected tree is oddly shaped, almost diamond-looking palm fronds.

coconut beetle damage

“So for public awareness, I think it’s very important for people on the island that when they see a geometric shape cut into the coconut palms tree that they report it to the pest hotline what they see,” said Clements.

Since the beetle was first discovered late last year, the state has placed close to 1,400 traps island-wide and spent close to $5 million to hunt down and stop the spread of the beetle. The traps are checked every two weeks.

The Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle is native to Asia, but was accidentally introduced to Western and Central Pacific islands. It’s still not known how the beetles arrived in Hawaii.

They attack palm trees by boring into the center of the crown, where they lay their young.

If you think you’ve spotted a Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle, call the state’s pest hotline at 643-PEST (7378).

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