By Josh Lancette
In Korea, a rhinoceros beetle called Allomyrina dichotoma has traditionally been raised for medicinal uses. Some Koreans believe it to be effective against liver disease and diabetes, and it’s been reported that the larvae have antineoplastic, antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-obesity, and anti-alzheimer effects. Furthermore, the adults are also raised and kept as pets in some Asian countries. In December 2014, Nike even released a collection of shoes inspired by the beetle.
However, the Korean A. dichotoma industry is now threatened by a virus, and researchers believe the virus is probably Oryctes rhinoceros nudivirus (OrNV), which has been used in the past in other parts of Southeast Asia as a biological control agent against another insect called the coconut palm rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros), a serious pest of the coconut oil palm industry,
According to an article in the Journal of Insect Science, researchers at the National Academy of Agricultural Science in the Republic of Korea discovered the virus after sampling diseased larvae from different counties in Korea.
“In 2012, an incident was reported that A. dichotoma larvae being farmed died en masse in Cheongwon County, Korea,” the authors wrote. “The appearances of diseased larvae were not likely symptoms caused by infection of bacterial or fungal pathogens, and the cause of death was suspected to be viral disease.”
So, the researchers began investigating, and they found the culprit to be OrNV, or at least a virus similar to it.
“We report for the first time that a virus, which seems to be OrNV, was identified in diseased larvae of A. dichotoma,” they wrote. “This viral disease may become a serious threat for Korean farmers and the insect industry.”
The virus has the potential to spread rapidly because large numbers of larvae are raised on farms in containers full of sawdust. To make matters worse, the researchers have observed cannibalistic behavior as live larvae eat others that have died from the virus. On top of that, they fear that the virus could move into wild beetle populations.
“The identification of this virus is not clear yet and full genome sequencing of the virus is planned for comparison with OrNV genome,” the researchers wrote. “If it turns out that the origin of this virus is OrNV, a further study should be carried out immediately on how this viral epidemic has landed in Korea and how to block the epidemic route.”
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Josh Lancette is Manager of Publications at the Entomological Society of America.