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Big bugs back in the news

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Some big praise is coming for quick thinking that detected some big bugs.

A group of local post office workers will be honored today for intercepting an illegal shipment of bugs.

In May, someone shipped 26 big Asian beetles from Taiwan to a Berks County postal facility near Reading.

The large insects, some measuring a half-foot in diameter and all considered harmful to agriculture in the U.S., were found in a package after postal workers thought they heard the parcel making noises.

In all, 26 beetles were in the package that was originally sent to Mohnton, Pa., which is located near Reading. You can see up-close pictures of the bugs by clicking here.

The package was labeled as containing "toys, gifts and jellies," according to the U.S. Customs Service, but postal officials in Mohnton thought they heard something alive inside.

When the package was sent to Philadelphia, it was frozen by agriculture specialists. They X-rayed the package and found smaller containers holding the bugs inside.

Some of the 26 insects, Hercules, Rhinoceros and Goliath beetles of the family Scarabaeidae, measured 5- to 6-inches in diameter.

"The specimens were some of he largest of their kind, and some of the largest I've ever seen, averaging five to six inches in diameter," said John Plummer, CBP Agriculture Specialist in a press release. "They are highly destructive insect pests that can cause extensive damage to fruit and vegetable crops, trees, shrubs and turf grasses."

Inside each of the little containers was "beetle jelly" that officials say would have kept the bugs alive during shipment.

"The postal facility had noticed that there were noises coming from the package, when they had contacted us," said Thomas Davis of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

The package was shipped from Taiwan. Officials said some of the smaller containers inside the package were labeled with the symbols for male and female, and that might have been a sign that someone was intending to breed the beetles.

Believe it or not, some people keep them as pets.

The recipient of the package has denied he's involved in breeding insects, telling authorities that he's a wildlife photographer and needed the beetles for staged photographs.

It is illegal to ship live beetles into the United States without a permit. This package did not have one. In fact, the contents were labeled as toys and gifts.

Officials say every year specialists at the Port of Philadelphia get rid of hundreds of harmful, non-indigenous beetles that arrive through shipments by air or by sea. These beetles are particularly harmful, not to humans, but to trees, vegetable crops and grass.

"Most recently, there was an outbreak that some people might be familiar with of Longhorne infestation up in New York, which cost millions of dollars in damages," said Davis.

The beetles have been frozen.

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