Environment & Science

Customs official says gypsy moth discovery a close call

Adult gypsy moth.
Adult gypsy moth.
Image courtesy U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

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A cargo ship from Kobe, Japan that had been ordered back into international waters by Southern California customs officials because of an Asian gypsy moth infestation has been declared free of the pest after being treated.

U.S. Customs inspectors boarded the cargo container ship at the Los Angeles-Long Beach seaport last Monday for a routine look around. They found signs of infestation that included a dead moth and masses of moth eggs in several areas of the ship.

Customs representative Naveeda Mirza says the discovery was worrisome because "it was an unusual number and because of that we asked the ship to either go back to the port of origin or get out of the U.S. waters."

After inspectors found the moths and eggs the ship's captain opted to head for international waters and call in a pesticide company to exterminate the insects.

The bugs have never established themselves in America, but not without a fight. The U.S. has battled them for decades, Mirza says, because they can wipe out forests with their voracious appetites, "a large infestation can completely defoliate trees, weaken the trees and leaving them more susceptible to disease."

Mirza says federal agencies have documented at least 20 introductions of the Asian gypsy moth through U.S. ports in the last two decades. Crews eradicated them every time.

A pest control company treated the ship from Kobe in international waters. Officials allowed it to unload during the weekend.