Department of Agriculture using dogs to sniff out invasive beetle

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The Hawaii Department of Agriculture is launching a new K9 program to look for a specific invasive beetle.

Cody Morden is one of the dog handlers for the program. Morden works with lab-mix Bravo.

“He loves to work and he loves treats. So in order for him to get the treats, he’s got to find the larvae,” Morden explained.

Bravo and another dog, Ryder, are being trained to sniff out Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle breeding grounds.

“The Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle is a beetle that largely spends most of its time in green waste, but when it’s an adult, it will go in and feed on basically any kind of palm,” said Darcy Oishi, the Biologist Control Section Chief for the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture has been trying to eradicate the tree-killing beetles. Now, its doing it with dogs.

“We’re only training agriculture dogs or we’re training dogs to find specific invasive species. So for example, this dog is trained to find only the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle larvae,” Joe Chopko, the training specialist for the USDA said about Bravo.

In an open training field, the dog’s impeccable sense of smell allows them to distinguish the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle larvae from dozens of other odors inside the target buckets.

“So when they respond to that box, they’re getting a treat. and they’re also getting a lot of praise,” Chopko said about how they train the dogs.

The human handlers are also going through training. Vanessa Beane works with Ryder. Beane said she is still learning Ryder’s signals.

“He will have his head up and catch the scent in the wind and then he turned and sits,” Beane explained. Beane added that sometimes the dogs paw at the target area or puts his nose on where the beetle scent may be coming from.

The dog’s ability to quickly hunt down the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle may be key to saving Hawaii’s iconic trees.

“What were anticipating is they’re going to be refining our ability to detect and creating a lot more efficiencies in my program,” Oishi said.

Without the dogs, workers have to guess where the beetle breeding grounds may be, and the process is labor intensive.

While it is still hard work for the dogs, Chopko said they enjoy it.

“For the dog this is fun. This is a mission. They’re out hunting and they get rewards for finding the beetle,” Chopko said.

The human handlers enjoy the task as well.

“Oh this guy? He makes me not afraid of Monday’s,” Morden said about Bravo and his job.

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