EVERETT — The tiny bugs are just what specially trained customs inspectors hope to find.
In crevasses and corners, in pantries and bins of food, U.S. Customs officials carefully look through ships, trucks and trains coming into the United States to keep dangerous critters from crossing the border.
“They know where to look and how to look,” said Susan Spinella, an agriculture program manager for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Seattle.
Earlier this month, agents found an infestation of the potentially destructive Khapra beetle — Trogoderma granarium — aboard a cargo ship at the Port of Everett.
The beetle can cause human health problems and wreak havoc to agricultural commerce, said Mike Milne, a U.S. Customs spokesman.
The beetles, native to India, were found among dry food stores on Feb. 8 when the vessel arrived in Everett from Portland, Ore., Milne said. Prior to Portland, the ship had made calls in Egypt, Greece and Denmark.
The vessel was in Everett to load a cargo of steel plates. It didn’t unload anything here.
Each vessel docking at the port is inspected, port spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said.
The beetles were found crawling among rice and beans among other food stores, Milne said.
A follow up investigation found more beetles in various life stages in galley spice cabinets and hidden between cushions on a dining bench.
“As long as they’re caught and not spread, there’s usually not a lot of concern,” University of Florida entomologist Thomas Fasulo said.
Once loose, the beetle can reproduce quickly and cause devastation among food crops. The bug can’t fly. It’s carried among cargo.
“This is considered one of the worst stored-grain pests in the world,” Fasulo said.
While the Khapra beetle doesn’t carry disease, it’s potential for crop damage makes it among the most feared pests.
“It is a battle to keep destructive pests out of our state, which is so dependent on trade and also dependent on our ability to export Washington grown ag commodities,” state Department of Agriculture spokesman Mike Louisell said.
The Khapra beetle is known to live in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The bug currently is considered eradicated in the United States.
“They’re very, very, very, prevalent overseas,” said Rose Brown, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Seattle. “It’s not uncommon to find them.”
Milne said Khapra beetles haven’t been found at the Port of Everett in decades. Scientists believe they easily could reproduce and thrive in Washington.
The ship sailed for China on Feb. 11. Its owners plan to take care of the infestation there. The vessel must show proof of fumigation before being allowed to re-enter any U.S. port, Milne said.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, firstname.lastname@example.org