CHARLESTON—April 30, started off as a normal day at the Port of Charleston, S.C. A team of United States U.S. 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 over ten 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.
"Previous introductions of bigheaded ants in Hawaii have put many native insects at risk, adding many to the threatened or endangered species list," said Dr. John Weaver, USDA area identifier. "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. As a result of this significant interception, CBPAS will increase targeting and inspection of aluminum scrap shipments.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.