Invasive beetle found repeatedly at Savannah port

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- Inspectors at the Savannah port have discovered longhorned beetle larvae in a shipment of goods arriving from Turkey. It was the sixth such incident recorded of this dangerous pest in the last six weeks at Port of Savannah.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agriculture specialists discovered the larvae among wooden pallets while inspecting a container of glass frit, a crushed glass used in ceramics. CBP submitted the specimens to U.S. Department of Agriculture identifiers, who determined the pest to be longhorned beetle larvae.

"These beetles, if released into the environment, would cause irreparable damage to any tree it comes into contact with," said Mark A. Varga, supervisory CBP officer. "The only way to destroy the beetles is to destroy the tree."

New York, Massachusetts and Ohio are already fighting longhorned beetle infestations. The beetles are known to target 12 types of trees including ash, poplar, maple and mimosa, the U.S. Department of Agriculture website reports.

The best defense against destructive pests like longhorned beetles is to prevent their entry into the U.S., said Lisa Brown, CBP port director for Port of Savannah. "The cost to American taxpayers to eradicate a pest, plant or disease once it becomes established in the U.S. can reach into the tens of millions of dollars or more," she said.

Fewer than a dozen agricultural inspectors look for invasive species in the millions of containers coming through the Savannah port each year, Vargas said.

"They have to inspect everything they can target," he said.

Longhorned beetles are a widespread family called Cerambycinae, characterized by antennae often as long as or longer than the beetle's body. The family consists of more than 26,000 species, slightly more than half from the Eastern Hemisphere. Several are serious pests. The larvae, called roundheaded borers, bore into wood, where they can cause extensive damage to either living trees, untreated lumber or, occasionally, to wood in buildings.

Inspectors detect the larvae by looking for the powdery product of their wood boring, which looks like sawdust.


Information from: Savannah Morning News,