It is considered one of the world’s most destructive beetles: eating its way through grains and seeds and leaving a creepy trail of body parts in its wake. Inspectors now have found the beetles in products brought by travelers arriving at two D.C. area airports, officials said.
Known as the Khapra beetle, several were found at Baltimore-Washington International and Dulles International airports. The insect is known as a “dirty feeder” because it “damages more grain than it consumes” and “contaminates grain with body parts and hairs.”
Given its troubles, the beetle is the only insect that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection “takes regulatory action” — even when “the insect is in a dead state,” officials said in a statement.
The beetle, customs officials added, can have a “potentially crippling economic consequences to grain and cereal exporters.”
At BWI, two live adult Khapra beetles, one dead immature larva and several “cast skins” were found in two pounds of insect-infested cow peas that a New York City resident had brought from Nigeria in late February. Cow peas are similar to black-eyed peas.
In addition, in late January, agriculture specialists found four live Khapra beetle adults, plus 12 live and several dead larvae, along with “cast skins” in a five-kilogram bag of basmati rice that a D.C. resident brought from Saudi Arabia.
All of the food that was contaminated with the beetles was incinerated, officials said.
There are several reasons customs officials are aggressive in dealing with Khapra beetles. They cannot be fought with insecticides and fumigants, plus they can survive for long periods without food. And they can take an economic toll if they get into food systems.
Agriculture specialists with the U.S. customs agency intercepts plenty of items each day related to food and pests. On a typical day, the agency said its specialists deals with roughly 4,500 prohibited plants, meats and animal products, plus roughly 350 pests and diseases.