PHARR, Texas - U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents recently found a potential invasive beetle attached to a shipment of fruit arriving from Mexico that they say could have been destructive to U.S. agriculture, if it made its way past inspection.
The discovery was made during a routine examination of boxes of mangosteen in May at a border inspection facility in South Texas.
The beetle identified as Cochabamba sp. is typically only found in Central and South America, which is why officials are concerned with its general migration northward.
According to United States Department of Agriculture entomologists, the sighting was the first time the bug has been found at any of the nation’s ports of entry.
Dr. Freddy Ibanez-Carrasco, an entomologist at Texas A&M’s research and extension center in Weslaco, Texas, said it is not rare to find potentially invasive species at border crossings, but authorities are right to be concerned about the bug.
"If it came from southern Mexico, we may not have issues because it is a tropical region. But if the region has close similarities to those here in the U.S., we could have issues," Ibanez-Carrasco said.
The entomologist believes that similar climate areas such as Louisiana and Florida could be tropical enough to support the bug’s northward progression.
"If it is able to make it into the U.S., the larvae could do most of the damage. Larvae can spread through the roots of crops," Ibanez-Carrasco said.
A CBP spokesperson said the bug was alive when inspectors found it, and the shipment of fruit was sent back to Central America.
The agency would not confirm where the shipment of fruit was from in Mexico, citing privacy rules and trade restrictions.
"Our agriculture specialists help protect American agriculture and contribute to the nation’s economic security by denying entry to invasive species not known to exist in the U.S.," Carlos Rodriguez, port director at the Anzalduas facility, said in a statement.