Farmers scramble to contain invasive beetle attacking Big Island crops

Updated: Oct. 30, 2019 at 4:44 PM HST
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PUNA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - An invasive insect is gaining ground on the east side of the Big Island.

Scientists are still working on an official common name for Acalolepta aesthetica, which has been dubbed the Queensland Longhorn Beetle.

Experimental traps have failed to work and there is still no treatment for infested trees.

Hawaiian Sanctuary founder Steven Lund is struggling to stop the bugs that are devastating his cacao crop in Pahoa.

"Last year, there were just a few holes in the trees. This year, the tree is just riddled like swiss cheese, with the larvae eating through the tree," he said.

The insect is also attacking other trees, including citrus, breadfruit, and kukui, which is the official state tree.

The Big Island Invasive Species Committee recently spotted signs of an infestation in kukui trees near Kamehameha Schools’ Keaau campus.

"Kukui tends to be the preferred tree out of all the various trees here in Puna that it likes and we are seeing a lot of it in kukui," said Franny Brewer, BIISC's communications director.

According to experts, the beetle was initially found in the middle of Puna in Orchidland and Keaau. The pest has spread to lower Puna as well as Hilo.

During the past few months, researchers have deployed experimental traps with various lures and lights at a test farm.

"Thus far, it has proven ineffective, so we're going to have to go back to the drawing board and try a few different things," said Sheina Sim, a research biologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

The USDA Agricultural Research Service recently received a grant to hire a temporary worker to focus on the beetle problem.

The insect came from Queensland, Australia, where it hasn’t harmed crops.

"We don't have a good sense of what the best way to treat this is. Really, the only treatment right now is if the tree is infested to cut it down, and that's a very difficult thing for people to come to terms with," said Brewer.

To report any beetle sightings, send an email with a photo to BIISC at Beetles can also be dropped off at the organization’s office at 23 E. Kawili Street.

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