CHICAGO (AP) — U.S. Customs and Border Patrol investigators said Tuesday
that they intercepted a feared nonnative beetle in bags of rice that arrived
at O’Hare International Airport from India, the latest in a surge of
discoveries of the hard-to-kill pest that could damage this country’s grain
industry if it became established.
A khapra beetle cast skin and larvae was discovered Aug. 16 in two, 10-pound
bags of rice that were among a shipment of personal household items, Customs
spokesman Brian Bell said. It was positively identified by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture entomologists.
The beetle, about 2 to 3 mm long, can damage up to 70 percent of grain, and
can cause intestinal problems if eaten, officials said. Infestations are
difficult to control because the beetle can survive for long periods of time
without food or moisture — including in spices, packaged food and stored
grain — is resistant to chemicals and can hide in tiny cracks and crevices.
If it were to become established in this country, “it’s going to disrupt our
economy” because of the volume of grain and wheat exported by farmers, Bell
said. “Countries know they’re getting a clean product (from the U.S.).”
Experts say the number of interceptions of the khapra beetle have increased
dramatically in recent years. As of July 26, the bug has been intercepted
100 times nationwide, compared to an average 15 times in 2007-2009 and an
average 6 times per year in 2005 and 2006, Bell said. Those shipments mostly
have come from northern Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, he said.
This is the fourth time the beetle was intercepted at O’Hare this year. It
also was found in sacks of rice and beans in January, in a container of
tapioca powder in June and in a personal supply of bulgur wheat earlier this
Inspectors at Indianapolis International Airport intercepted two khapra
beetles last month in a small bag of barley seeds included in a package of
personal items being shipped from India to North Carolina. Khapras also were
spotted by customs agents this spring at border crossings in Detroit and
Port Huron, Mich., and at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International
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.
The Customs office said last month that it would begin enforcing a federal
quarantine established by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service that restricted importation of rice from countries
with known khapra infestations.
They have been called one of the 100 most-feared pests, but they’re not the
only nonnative species ending up in this country in cargo shipments and the
luggage of passengers coming to the U.S. from overseas. U.S. Department of
Agriculture data shows that between 2001 and 2010, the number of invasive
insects, plants, pathogens and other foreign species intercepted by
inspectors grew 44 percent, rising from 64,178 found in 2001 to 92,476
intercepted last year. Most of those foreign pests came from countries in
Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Kelly Estes, a bug expert with the Illinois Cooperative Agricultural Pest
Survey, said that’s not surprising.
“We are global
economy,” she said. “With things moving around the world, we’re bound to
have things all the time.”