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U.S. Customs at port of Baltimore catches tiny beetle with outsized capability for destruction

At a port that moves millions of tons of cargo each year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection specialists recently managed to find a single invasive bug —smaller than a grain of rice — and stop it from potentially causing a costly infestation.

Agents inspecting a shipment of screws from Thailand at the port of Baltimore on May 4 found four cast skins and one live adult Khapra beetle, the border agency said Friday. The beetle is considered one of the world's most destructive pests of grains, cereals and stored foods.

The beetle has been showing up at U.S. ports with increasing frequency in recent years, though it is not currently established in the United States. Its discovery in California in 1953 led to a 13-year, $15 million eradication effort. The bug can tolerate insecticides and fumigants, and can survive for long periods without food, the customs agency said.

The catch was particularly noteworthy because Thailand, where the shipping container originated from, is not known to have the Khapra beetle. Customs agents discovered the container passed last year through Saudi Arabia and the Sudan — both of which do have the beetle — and Malaysia and Singapore, before arriving in Baltimore.

The beetle is a considered a "dirty feeder" because it damages more grain than it consumes, and because it contaminates grain with body parts and hair, the customs agency said. Those contaminants can cause gastrointestinal problems in humans.

The interception "demonstrates the need each day for Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists to exercise vigilance during inspections of goods entering the United States," Casey Owen Durst, CBP director of Baltimore Field Operations, said in a statement.

The agency ordered the container to be re-exported.

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