A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory confirmed Wednesday (Oct. 2) that 27 egg masses discovered on a freighter first in Baltimore September 16 and again during the ship’s transit to Brunswick, Ga., were the highly destructive Asian Gypsy Moth.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture specialists first encountered six egg masses during a routine inspection of the M/V Columbia Highway, a vehicle carrier ship that arrived from the United Kingdom. The ship had made a port call in Japan in June and July. The egg masses were removed and the area treated with Golden Pest Spray Oil.
CBP agriculture specialists and ship’s crewman discovered 27 egg masses of the highly destructive Asian Gypsy Moth on the car carrier Columbia Highway between the ports of Baltimore and Brunswick, Ga., in September.
During the ship’s transit from Baltimore to Brunswick, Ga., M/V Columbia Highway crewmen conducted a comprehensive examination and reported to CBP that they discovered and mitigated 20 additional egg masses. CBP agriculture specialists discovered one additional egg mass when the ship moored in Brunswick September 18.
CBP reported that the vessel was clear of Asian Gypsy Moth (AGM) egg masses during a follow-up examination in Charleston, S.C., September 20.
AGM poses a significant threat to our nation’s forests and urban landscapes as it is known to be extremely mobile – females can travel up to 25 miles per day – can lay egg masses that could yield hundreds of hungry caterpillars, and is itself a voracious eater that attacks more than 500 species of trees and plants.
“This important interception highlights the serious threat that the highly invasive and destructive Asian Gypsy Moth poses to our nation’s agriculture industries and to our economy,” said Susan Thomas, Acting CBP Port Director for the Port of Baltimore. “This case also demonstrates the tremendous teamwork and cooperation between U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Agriculture and merchant seamen to quickly mitigate this potential threat. I commend the Columbia Highway crew for their tenacity in hunting down all AGM egg masses on their ship while at sea.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), officials first detected AGM in North America in 1991 near Vancouver, Canada. After that, AGM was detected in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. Ships infested with egg masses from ports in far eastern Russia probably introduced the pest to North America while visiting ports on the West Coast. APHIS and state officials eradicated those infestations by trapping and spraying.
Since then, there have been several reported AGM infestations in North Carolina and the Pacific Northwest. Federal and state agriculture specialists eradicated all of those infestations.
AGM differs from European Gypsy Moth (EGM). EGM is well established in the Northeast United States. AGM has a more voracious appetite for a broader variety of plants and its females are active fliers. In contrast, EGM prefers oak and its females are flightless.
APHIS says EGM defoliate an average of about 4 million acres each year, causing millions of dollars in damage. If AGM were to establish in the United States, the damage could be more extensive and costly.
USDA’s APHIS and CBP agriculture specialists continue their vigilance against future introductions through stringent inspections of arriving high-risk merchant vessels and their cargo, particularly those vessels that call on ports in Asia, which is known as an AGM high-risk area.
“Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists perform a critical border security role in safeguarding America’s agricultural and natural resources from harmful pests and plant diseases,” said Thomas.
CBP agriculture specialists have extensive training and experience in the biological sciences and agricultural inspection. On a typical day, they inspect tens of thousands of international air passengers, and air and sea cargoes nationally being imported to the United States and seize 4,919 prohibited meat, plant materials or animal products, including 476 insect pests.