ROMULUS, Mich. – An extremely rare moth species was recently encountered at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and is considered to be the first sign of the species since 1912.
The discovery was made during a U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection after a passenger arrived from the Philippines. Upon opening a personal bag, agriculture specialists discovered seed pods that the passenger claimed were for medicinal tea.
Upon closer review, apparent insect exit holes were discovered in the seed pods that were ultimately intercepted by agents.
Moth larvae and pupae were collected from the September 2021 incident for further analysis.
While in quarantine, several of the pupae hatched to reveal "very flashy" moths with raised patches of black bristles, customs officials said.
Physical characteristics indicated the moths to be members of family Pyralidae, but the specimens were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for further testing.
A USDA Smithsonian Institution etymologist later confirmed the findings and noted this was the first time that a larvae or pupae associated with this species has been collected.
"Agriculture specialists play a vital role at our nation’s ports of entry by preventing the introduction of harmful exotic plant pests and foreign animal diseases into the United States," Port Director Robert Larkin said. "This discovery is a testament to their important mission of identifying foreign pests and protecting America’s natural resources."
According to conservationists, pyralid moths are usually not seen in the open because they are sheltered as caterpillars while feeding, boring into stems, fruits and seeds of plants. Some species even eat from farmers’ stored grain.
Each year, customs officials intercept tens of thousands of "actionable pests" which are identified as being dangerous to the health and safety of the nation’s agricultural resources.