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Look out for tiny hitchhikers in used sea containers

The tiny adult khapra beetle (right) and juvenile larvae pictured on grains of rice.
Photo: Science and Surveillance Group, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Have you purchased a used sea container for your home, farm or business, even if it was years ago? If so, keep a vigilant eye out for khapra beetle (Trogoderma granarium), which can survive in sea containers for many years.

Due to its small size, fondness for cracks and crevices and ability to survive without food for extended periods, this hitchhiker pest can travel to Australia inside sea containers.

Khapra beetle is number two on Australia’s National Priority Plant Pest list and the number-one pest for the grains industry. It is estimated that a widespread incursion could cost Australia $15.5 billion over a period of 20 years.

Pests are remarkable at adapting to new environments. When they become established, they can flourish in the absence of their usual natural predators and parasites that normally regulate their population.

Khapra beetle feeds on stored grain and dried food, destroying grain quality and contaminating the supply. Their skins and hairs can also cause breathing and stomach issues for people handling infested grains. Once infested, khapra beetle is extremely difficult to remove from storage structures and transport vessels.

This exotic pest, native to India, is not currently present in Australia and it is essential that we keep it that way. Khapra beetle has already spread to many parts of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Inspecting your container

When inspecting for khapra beetle, ensure you check the door seals, cracks, wall linings and crevices, and particularly floors and floorboards of your sea container. Things to look out for include hairy larvae, shed larval skins, waste or damage to goods.

The federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has produced a video on how to check a used sea container for khapra beetle. Watch it on Youtube.

How you can help

Growers are urged to assist with important national efforts to monitor for khapra beetle in their grain storage and sea containers by installing dome traps.

Jim Moran, Victoria’s grains biosecurity officer, says temporary dome traps can be useful to help growers with surveillance efforts.

“Surveillance will help assure our trade partners that we do not have khapra beetle. It will also raise the flag, if we ever do find evidence of the pest, to immediately activate eradication efforts,” he says.

The small plastic dome traps sit alongside grain stores and sea containers and are inspected every 10 weeks and recharged with a small lure.

“If there is evidence of insects upon inspection, these will be sent to Agriculture Victoria’s entomologists for identification.”

If you find anything unusual in cargo, containers or parcels secure it immediately, and call the See. Secure. Report. hotline on 1800 798 636.

If you find anything on your property, call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 or report it via the DAFF website.

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