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Border Patrol Looks for Bugs, Not Drugs

Keeping invasive species from coming into the U.S. on cargo ships is a constant challenge for the Border Patrol. The federal government spends over $1.3 billion every year on detecting, eradicating and controlling invasive species, according to the US Department of the Interior.

The rise in international trade has increased the opportunities for invasive species to hitchhike into the U.S. In early August, Border Patrol officials stepped aboard a ship in Seattle plastered with more than 100 Asian gypsy moth egg masses, each containing up to 1,000 eggs.


They ordered the ship escorted out of U.S. territorial waters immediately by the Coast Guard before the eggs started hatching.

“If there are a hundred egg masses and they start hatching, we can’t send the ship through Puget Sound, because there are so many islands the caterpillars could land on,” said Alishia Beckham of the Boarder Patrol.

After hatching, the caterpillars let out a silken thread that the wind catches – this is called “ballooning.” They can travel up to five miles depending on conditions.

“Once the larvae start ballooning, we’re in trouble,” said Customs and Border Protection Chief Eric Johnson. He estimates if they hatched at a Washington port, they could infest the forest of the Cascade Mountains within five years.

Very few nonnative species become invasive, but a single species can cause millions of dollars in costs. Zebra mussels annually cause over $5 million in damages in the Great Lakes. Cornell University researchers estimated in 2004 that invasive species cost the U.S. economy almost $120 billion each year.

“A continued influx of invasive species is going to be in our future,” said Jim Marra, an entomologist for Washington state’s Department of Agriculture.


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June 18, 2019, 9:07 pm PDT

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