- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors seized a six-legged fugitive this week in Florida without incident, taking a long-horned giant harlequin beetle into custody as the critter scampered across the deck of a cargo ship at the Port of Miami.

The beetle was captured by a CBP officer and taken to a U.S. Agriculture Department laboratory, where scientists identified it and verified that it was the first time this particular pest had been intercepted in the United States since the department started keeping records in 1984.

CBP officials said the beetle, also known by the alias Acrocinus longimanus, has since been frozen for research.

“The interception of this significant pest demonstrates the critical nature of the CBP mission to protect trade and commerce, including domestic agriculture,” said Harold E. Woodward, director of field operations at CBP’s Miami office.

The beetle was discovered during an inspection of a ship that arrived in the Miami port from Puerto Cortes, Honduras. If it had successfully evaded capture, CBP officials said, it could have posed a threat to agriculture in the state.

Most long-horned beetles attack and kill mango and cashew trees by burrowing into trunks and branches, causing branch breakage and eventually killing the tree. Florida is the top producer of mangoes in the United States, and more than 80 percent of Florida mango production occurs in the Miami area.

Many Florida residents began planting mango trees after the outbreak of citrus canker in the state and the ensuing destruction of millions of citrus trees. Pests such as the giant harlequin beetle could be devastating to local crops, with a significant economic impact on Florida growers, CBP officials said.

Agricultural inspections at U.S. ports of entry had been the responsibility of the Agriculture Department since 1913 but were transferred to Homeland Security after its creation in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service became a part of CBP. The agency is responsible for inspecting passenger declarations and cargo manifests, international air passengers, baggage, cargo and conveyances and holding suspect articles in quarantine to prevent the introduction of plant or animal diseases.

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