In several of the major shipping ports in the Eastern United States, customs officials have announced they have recently found shipments containing an extremely destructive stowaway: the Khapra Beetle. They have been found in shipments in New York, Virginia and Atlanta, as well as in cargo at the DFW airport.
As Floridians, we certainly understand the major negative impacts of invasive species – it seems like we have more than our share that affect our eco-systems, crops, pets and homeowners, often at a great financial cost. In fact, the US was once infected by the Khapra Beetle in California in 1953. Although completely eradicated through a major undertaking, the total cost of the eradication efforts were $11 million dollars and took more than ten years! Today, a similar localized infestation could cost $90 million dollars or more.
The Khapra Beetle is considered an extremely damaging species to the extent that K9 dogs at airports and sea ports are trained to sniff out evidence of this pest. And simple possession of a dead Khapra beetle is grounds for regulatory action.
What is the Khapra Beetle?
The Khapra beetle feeds primarily on grains such as wheat, barley and oats. They also love to feed on dried and stored grains, packaged foods, and spices. Since Florida is a huge agricultural state, the farmers in Florida could be severely affected in the case of an infestation.
Not only does the beetle eat the grains, they damage more of the grains than they eat. In fact, they damage the seeds to the point where the grains can no longer germinate. When they infect a grain store, they can destroy anywhere from 30% to 70% of the grains in weight. For this reason, it is commonly listed as one of the top 100 worst invasive species in the world.
Native to India, the beetle has spread into many Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries. Grain and dried goods imports from these countries are usually banned for import into the US. If you are travelling into the US from one of these countries, you simply cannot bring in packages of rice of noodles because they could contain the Khapra beetle.
Accustomed to warmer climates, the beetle is more apt to make their home in the warmer Southern states in the US. This could include Florida although to date, no Khapra Beetles have been reported outside of any entry points.
Eradicating the Khapra Beetle
The beetle is resistant to insecticides and fumigants. They can survive long periods without food, requires little water and can hide in tiny cracks and crevices. There is a type of insecticide that can kill the beetle but because they can hide in tiny cracks, it must be applied into every nook and cranny.