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Beetle Unwelcome Immigrant

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CHARLOTTE — If entomologists could, they would help the Asian longhorn beetle pack its bags and head back home on a one-way ticket.

For centuries, hitchhikers -- not only the two-legged variety, but seeds, insects, snakes, rodents and other animals, even viruses -- have picked up sticks and moved to a new part of the world. Some were welcomed, in other cases they became problems.

Now it seems the world is shrinking ever faster -- and critters are finding it ever easier to relocate. One that's starting to worry experts is the Asian longhorn beetle.

Indigenous to China, it has natural enemies there. But nothing checks its spread in the United States.

"It's a substantial insect. I mean it will bore a hole about a quarter of an inch in diameter in a maple tree," says Bill Dickerson, division director of the N.C. Plant Industry. He says the beetle feeds on the tree and weakens it.

Infestations have been found in New York and in Chicago. Their favored mode of travel is untreated wooden crates carrying goods shipped out of China. That's how the Asian Longhorn Beetle almost called North Carolina home.

"Well, we found it in North Carolina about a month ago and it was in a warehouse where they received machined equipment from China. And it was in Charlotte," he says.

The list of foreign pests on American soil is a long one from the Asian hemlock woolly adulgid to the European gypsy moth. Officials with the State Department of Agriculture track the spread of these pests but say the new global economy makes their job increasingly difficult.

"We know that there is more international commerce. There's more movement of people and so every time these two things increase the probability of bringing pests in increases also," Dickerson says.

Dickerson says foreign pests threaten a big part of our state's economy. At risk are billions of dollars of North Carolina Agriculture including Christmas trees, nurseries and forest land.

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Rick Armstrong, Reporter
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