Miami customs agents find S. African insect never before seen in U.S.

Miami HeraldAugust 30, 2009 

A little-known insect never before found in the United States was discovered last week at Miami International Airport by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency said on Saturday.

The Uttaris pallidipennis Stal, a species of the Hemiptera order, was discovered Aug. 20 amid an incoming shipment of cut flowers from South Africa, according to agency spokesman Chief Jose Castellano.

The insect was sent to the USDA Miami Plant Inspection Station, where it was identified as a member of the Hemiptera species, which is found only in South Africa, according to Castellano.

The discovery of the bug comes at a time when invasive whiteflies and red bay ambrosia beetles are threatening South Florida's landscaping and avocado farming industry, but entomologists are saying there isn't enough information about the South African visitor to know whether the bug's presence could be damaging.

"We really don't know,'' Castellano said of the potential impact to South Florida's ecosystem. "Whenever you have an insect that is not native, there is really no way to tell how much damage it can do until it actually gets out and starts to eat.''

Typically, Hemipteras dine on the seed heads of grasses and sedges, but Castellano said invasive insects often find an alternative food source when their normal diet is unavailable.

So little is known about the Uttaris pallidipennis Stal, scientists aren't even sure which grasses and sedges it feeds on.

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