An invasive bug with a taste for grains such as wheat, barley, corn and rice and the potential to severely harm Michigan's agriculture industry has been discovered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at crossings in Detroit and Port Huron.
Two Khapra beetles were found in a shipment of chickpeas from India this spring at the Fort Street Cargo Facility, and two Khapra larvae and a live beetle were found in a family's luggage last month at the Blue Water Bridge.
The bug may only be as big as a nickel is thick, but "if not interdicted, (it) could wipe out soybean, wheat and corn crops," Kenneth Hammond, chief of cargo operations at the Fort Street center, told The Detroit News for a story Monday.
The beetle originated in India and prefers warm, dry conditions. The American Southwest would be at greatest risk, but the beetle is resilient in unfavorable conditions, said Jim Zablotny, an insect identifier with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"They typically are very tough insects," Zablotny said. "The pest, if it gets loose in the U.S., will be a major problem."
In 1953, the discovery of Khapra beetles in California led to a massive control and eradication effort that went on for 13 years and cost millions. Before the beetles were eliminated, they spread to warehouses, storage bins and mills in Arizona.
In the light of devastation wreaked by the emerald ash borer and other invasive species, agriculture border agents are seen as one of the last lines of defense.
"The officers here in Detroit employ several methods to keep it and other pests from entering the country," Hammond said. "From simply fumigating containers to quarantining shipments until treatment, the methods are many."
Each day, an average of 5,500 trucks pass through the Fort Street facility, making it one of the busiest inspection ports in the U.S.
In the Port Huron case, border agents targeted for inspection 10 suitcases belonging to a Michigan family returning from a trip to India via Toronto. The agents did so because the family was in an area where Khapra beetles are found, officials told the Times Herald.