Planet Picture Book

Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle

A short informative picture book about the coconut rhinoceros beetle. The species arrived in the Pacific Islands by accident and is considered a major pest – it bores into the top of the coconut palm to drink the sap, damaging the new leaves.

I wouldn’t like to see one of these beetles scuttling around my house. The coconut rhinoceros beetle is huge – and it’s horned (hence the rhinoceros part of its name). The coconut palms don’t like to see it coming either: “No! Please go away!” reads a thought bubble from a palm tree in one of the book’s photos. As we learn in this title, the beetle, which arrived in the Pacific Islands by accident, is far from welcome there. It damages the young leaves of the coconut palm as it bores into the top of the tree to drink the sap; it threatens the wellbeing of the Pacific Island “tree of life”.*

Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle is one of three non-fiction picture books published in the Waka Story Books Biodiversity Series. The other two titles are about chickens and house cats. It is a small-format picture book with text on one side and photographs on the other, and it is full of fascinating facts about coconut rhinoceros beetles, such as where they got their name, their lifecycle, what they eat, and whether they are dangerous. (In case you were wondering, no, they are not dangerous to humans, even though they look scary.)

Each double spread covers a different set of facts, colour coded for visual interest and ease of reference. So, a green header and green backdrop feature on the spread titled “Where did they get their name?” then purple is used on the next. The photographs neatly complement the text on the facing page adding to the reader’s overall understanding about the beetle.

I particularly like the way the text draws the reader in, prompting us to think about what we are reading and seeing on each page and to go beyond it. “Have you seen larvae?” we are asked in one section; “What kinds of insects do bite and sting people?” The book also encourages readers to help control the spread of the beetles by removing dead logs, which the larvae feed on. At the end, there is a short section promoting further discussion of key vocabulary and related topics, such as naming other pests and describing the damage they do.

This picture book contains a wealth of useful information about the coconut rhinoceros beetle and its impact on the environment. It is a particularly valuable read for anyone living in areas directly affected by the beetle, such as the Pacific Islands, Asia and Reunion, but should fascinate anyone with a passion for insects and/or learning about the natural world.

* This short post provides a little more information about the Pacific Island “tree of life”, and includes a lovely legend about the origins of the coconut palm.

The Book
Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle by Ruth Toumu’a, edited by Professor Randy Thaman (Waka Story Books, Institute of Education, The University of the South Pacific, 2015)

The Author
Dr Ruth Toumu’a is a Fellow in Curriculum and Literacy at the Institute of Education, The University of the South Pacific (Tonga campus). She is actively involved in revitalising the Institute’s Waka Story Book collection, with a continuing focus on culturally and linguistically relevant books for the Pacific.

The Editor
Professor Konai Helu Thaman holds a Personal Chair in Pacific Education and Culture at the University of the South Pacific. She has also published five collections of poetry, which have been translated into multiple languages.

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