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U.S. Customs finds rare moths in Michigan that were not seen for 110 years

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DETROIT, Mich. (WJRT) - Seed pods found on a traveler from the Philippines at a Detroit airport led to the first known human contact with a rare species of moths, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Agents found the seeds in September 2021 while inspecting baggage from a passenger who was arriving at Detroit Metropolitan Airport from the Philippines. The traveler said the seeds were used to make medicinal tea.

However, customs agents noticed small insect holes burrowed in the seeds and held them for further inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists. 

They raised the moth larvae in a sealed lab and sent the moths to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for further study when they reached maturity. An etymologist there determined they are from the pyralidae family of moths.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said there were no recorded encounters with this species of moth since they were first described in 1912. The moth species had never been collected until they were discovered in Detroit.

Customs agents say they intercept tens of thousands of "actionable pests" every year before they get released in the U.S. Many of them are considered dangerous to the health and safety of American agriculture.

"Agriculture specialists play a vital role at our nation’s ports of entry by preventing the introduction of harmful exotic plant pests and foreign animal diseases into the United States,” said Port Director Robert Larkin. “This discovery is a testament to their important mission of identifying foreign pests and protecting America’s natural resources.”

Everyone entering the U.S. is required to declare meats, fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, soil, animals or agricultural products they may be carrying. 

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