Adult Papuana huebneri are black, shiny and 15-20 mm long. The size and number of head horns in taro beetles varies between species and sexes;P. huebneri has only one small horn, which is larger in the male than the female (Macfarlane, 1987a).
Taro beetles can be detected by: (1) digging up wilting taro plants and examining them for signs of damage;(2) using light traps, particularly on moonless and rainy nights;and (3) sampling wild plant species (e.g. banana, sugarcane and grasses such as Paspalum spp. and Brachiaria mutica) at breeding sites, especially along river banks, on rotting logs and in compost heaps (Carmichael et al., 2008;Tsatsia and Jackson, 2014;TaroPest, 2015).
Adult taro beetles burrow into the soft trunks, plant bases and corms of a range of plants, including taro, making large holes or cavities up to 2 cm in diameter (McGlashan, 2006). The feeding tunnels and associated frass may be visible in infested corms (Biosecurity Australia, 2011). The amount of damage to the crop depends on the age of the plants when attacked and the density of infestation. Feeding activity can cause wilting and even the death of affected plants, particularly in young plants if the beetles bore into the growing points. Older plants infested by beetles grow slowly and a few or all of the leaves wilt (TaroPest, 2015). In severely damaged plants tunnels may run together to form large cavities, making the damaged corms more susceptible to fungal infections (Macfarlane, 1987a;Onwueme, 1999). Similar symptoms of damage are caused to other root crops, e.g. sweet potato, yams and potato (McGlashan, 2006). Taro beetles can ring-bark young tea, cocoa and coffee plants in the field and bore into seedlings of oil palm and cocoa (Aloalii et al., 1993).
Papuana huebneri is one of at least 19 species of known taro beetles native to the Indo-Pacific region;it is native to Papua New Guinea, the Molucca Islands in Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and has been introduced to Kiribati. Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is an important crop in these countries;high infestations of P. huebneri can completely destroy taro corms, and low infestations can reduce their marketability. The beetle also attacks swamp taro or babai (Cyrtosperma chamissonis [ Cyrtosperma merkusii ]), which is grown for consumption on ceremonial occasions. Infestations of taro beetles, including P. huebneri, have led to the abandonment of taro and swamp taro pits in the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, resulting in the loss of genetic diversity of these crops and undermining cultural traditions. P. huebneri also attacks a variety of other plants, although usually less seriously. Management today relies on an integrated pest management strategy, combining cultural control measures with the use of insecticides and the fungal pathogen Metarhizium anisopliae.
Papuana huebneri is a pest of taro (Colocasia esculenta;known as ‘dalo’ in Fijian;McGlashan, 2006) (Masamdu, 2001;International Business Publications, 2010), which is grown primarily as a subsistence crop in many Pacific Island countries, including Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, where P. huebneri is found (Aloalii et al., 1993). Taro also has value in gift-giving and ceremonial activities (Braidotti, 2006;Lal, 2008). The beetle also attacks swamp taro or babai (Cyrtosperma merkusii or Cyrtosperma chamissonis), which is grown for consumption on ceremonial occasions (Food and Agriculture Organization, 1974;Dharmaraju, 1982;International Business Publications, 2010).
Other plants attacked by Papuana huebneri include tannia (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), bananas (Musa spp.), Canna lily (Canna indica), pandanus (Pandanus odoratissimus [ Pandanus utilis or P. odorifer ]), the bark of tea (Camellia sinensis), coffee (Coffea spp.) and cocoa (Theobroma cacao), the fern Angiopteris evecta (Masamdu, 2001), and occasionally the Chinese cabbage Brassica chinensis [ Brassica rapa ] (International Business Publications, 2010).
Species of Papuana behave similarly to each other and feed on the same host plants (TaroPest, 2015). For taro beetles in general, primary host plants other than taro include giant taro (Alocasia macrorrhizzos), Amorphophallus spp., the fern Angiopteris evecta, banana (Musa spp.) and tannia (Xanthosoma sagittifolium). Secondary hosts include pineapple (Ananas comosus), groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), betel nut (Areca catechu), cabbage (Brassica oleracea), canna lily (Canna indica), coconut (Cocos nucifera), Commelina spp., Crinum spp., yam (Dioscorea spp.), oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), Marattia spp., pandanus (Pandanus odoratissimus [ Pandanus utilis or P. odorifer ]), Saccharum spp. including sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) and Saccharum edule [ Saccharum spontaneum var. edulis ], and potato (Solanum tuberosum);they occasionally ring bark young tea (Camellia sinensis), coffee (Coffea spp.) and cocoa (Theobroma cacao) plants (Macfarlane, 1987b;Aloalii et al., 1993;Masamdu and Simbiken, 2001;Masamdu, 2001;Tsatsia and Jackson, 2014;TaroPest, 2015).
In agriculture cultural control is the practice of modifying the growing environment to reduce the prevalence of unwanted pests. Examples include changing soil pH or fertility levels, irrigation practices, amount of sunlight, temperature, or the use of beneficial animals (e.g. chickens) or insects (e.g. ladybugs) (biological control). Cultural control can help avoid pest population build-up, strengthen the overall resilience of a farming system and thereby reduce a need for curative interventions e.g., chemical pesticide applications. As such, a systematic implementation of cultural control practices can avert pesticide-induced detrimental effects on farmland biodiversity and the environment.