Tuesday, May 21, 2013
It started off as a normal day at the Port of Charleston. A team of United States Customs and Border Protection Agriculture Specialists (CBPAS) were busy screening and inspecting foreign arriving cargo and vessels. However, once the CBPAS opened a container manifested with aluminum scrap metal from Costa Rica, they discovered it was infested with more than a dozen different crawling and flying insects.
Relying on their training, CBPAS collected and forwarded more than 10 different insect specimens to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Plant Protection and Quarantine entomologist. On May 2, USDA identified one of the insects as the infamous Pheidole species, commonly referred to as a “‘bigheaded ant.’”
The bigheaded ant is one considered to be a serious invasive ant species and has been nominated as among 100 of the “World’s Worst” invaders. It is a serious threat to the biodiversity of their surroundings by harboring insects that decrease plant productivity and by harvesting seeds.
In addition to being a threat to natural resources, it has been reported that some species are known to chew on irrigation pipes and telephone cabling as well as electrical wires. According to Dr. John Weaver, USDA Area Identifier, “Previous introductions of bigheaded ants in Hawaii have put many native insects at risk, adding many to the threatened or endangered species list. It probably will cause many species extinctions and probably already has.” As a result of the discovery, the shipment will be required to undergo extensive fumigation.
CBP agriculture specialists have extensive training and experience in the biological sciences, risk analysis and agriculture import inspection techniques. They are considered to be the first line of defense in the protection of the agriculture, forest and livestock industries from exotic destructive plant pests and animal diseases. Currently, invasive species cause an estimated $136 billion in lost agriculture revenue annually. Each day CBP prevents harmful organisms like the bigheaded ant from entering the U.S. at more than 300 ports of entry.