Beetles: Number One Exotic Pest Intercepted
at U.S. Ports
By Hank Becker
April 25, 1997
Beetles are now the number one insect
interloper at U.S. ports. That shouldnt be a surprise, since beetles are
also the dominant animal life of our planet, with nearly 300,000 described
species--about one-fourth of all animals.
Many beetles are beneficial and fill important roles in maintaining
ecological balance. But certain beetles are bad news because they gnaw wooden
shipping crates and infest stored products and produce.
When foreign shipments come into U.S. ports, they must be checked to
intercept any potential insect pests that might have hitched a ride. If insects
are found, they must be identified and appropriate action taken before the
infested cargo can be unloaded.
Fortunately, a group of scientists with USDAs Agricultural Research Service
specializes in identifying beetles. In 1996, ARS experts at Beltsville, Md., and the
Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.,
received 2,445 requests for emergency insect identifications. About 700 urgent
requests required immediate identification of more than 1,500 beetle specimens.
Beetles and their larvae feed on everything: green plants, stored products,
wood, animals, dung and even each other. Their uniquely adaptive body design
has allowed them to exploit an array of ecological niches from the driest
desert to mountain streams, agricultural fields and our homes.
Beetles cause millions of dollars in damage to structural timbers, stored
products and crops each year. Many beetles of foreign origin, such as Japanese
beetles, are now major U.S. pest species. Careful science-based studies of
foreign specimens are essential to ensure that exotic beetle species dont
slip into the United States.
Scientific contact: Natalia J. Vandenberg,
ARS Systematic Entomology
Laboratory, National Museum of
Natural History, Wash., DC, phone (202) 382-1792, fax 786-9422,