Towards multi-species global histories: Rhinoceros beetles, coconut plantations and economic entomology in German Samoa

In 1909, the Indian rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis) was taken onto Upolu, German Samoa, in Hevea cuttings from Ceylon. This species found such favourable conditions here that it multiplied enormously and killed thousands of palm trees threatening the entire coconut crop. In order to avoid the loss of coconut plantations, the German colonial regime, under pressure from economic actors, sent the entomologist Karl Friedrichs to develop methods to control the rhinoceros beetle plague. After a scientific tour of South Asia and East Africa, Friedrichs found a biological enemy, the insect fungus Metarhizium anisopliae, and introduced it to Samoa. Friederichs later studied pest control in coffee plantations in Java (1921-24) and was a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota (1928-29.) As a result of his global trajectory, Friedrichs published important works on the ecology of insects and economic entomology during his academic positions in Rostock and Posen. This paper will examine the success of Friedrichs against the rhinoceros beetle in German Samoa, showing the intermingled scientific, private and colonial interests to prevent loss of economic profit. It will analyse scientific cooperation between the German colonial space, linking experimental stations in Apia and Amani, and beyond imperial boundaries, like stations in Ceylon and Madagascar. Moreover, the migration of the Indian rhinoceros beetle to Samoa provides sufficient evidence about the unexpected ecological consequences of the increasing mobility of biological agents across imperial borders. Lastly, this case allows to reflect on the non-human agency of insects for a methodology of ‹multi-species› global histories.