Warner Brothers just released their brand new movie from the Harry Potter franchise “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a wonderful movie set in 1926 New York City where a foreign traveler Newt Scamander a magizoologist (a person who studies magical creatures) is writing a manuscript in the hopes of helping non-maj (muggles) understand these fantastic beasts. During his trip to New York he packs a suitcase with various creatures including a thunderbird which Newt hopes to release back to his home in Arizona. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. During his visit, things go crazy and some creatures escape!

Why does this sound familiar?

Because every day people travel all over the world with their suitcase filled to the brim with foreign entities. Sometimes it’s medicine, plants, animals, insects, food, or a commodity they brought back as a souvenir. All of these items have the potential to be dangerous to our native species agriculture and enviornment. Much like the movie, once a fantastic beast escapes, chaos can quickly follow. Non-native species don’t have natural enemies and thus, can quickly populate and destroy valuable natural resources.

The pests that arrive in Florida (giant African land snails, whiteflies, Asian citrus psyllid, etc.), can cause a great deal of trouble. While we can’t “reparo” the situation as quickly as wizards can, biocontrol agents are set in place to mitigate the problem at hand. Phorid flies parasitize imported fire ant populations, Lilioceris cheni beetles eat air potato vines, Tamarixia radiata help control the Asian citrus psyllid (the vector for citrus greening disease), and the list of beneficial natural enemies goes on.

What we do know is the importance of declaring agricultural items when coming through customs.


While J.K. Rowling is right, the transportation of creatures without a permit is illegal, she was wrong about customs. U.S. Customs and Border Control officers and their canine partners are vigilant and will attempt to catch whatever you bring in. “…undeclared prohibited agriculture items will be confiscated and can result in the issuance of a civil penalty to the traveler for failure to declare the prohibited item.”So stop while you’re ahead. Don’t be a Newt Scamander and remember Don’t Pack a Pest!

Eight Caribbean nations are partners in the program. Now it has jumped the pond.


Agricultural Detector Dog Kingston with poster featuring Linus at the airport in Shannon, Ireland.

Thanuja Hall, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection canine handler who works preclearance at the airport in Shannon, Ireland, sent us photos of her canine partner, Kingston, in front of a Don’t Pack a Pest sign she has on display there.

Kingston bears a strong resemblance to Linus, the detector dog at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport and the face of Don’t Pack a Pest program since its inception in 2011. Beagles are the preferred breed for inspecting travelers’ luggage for undeclared items that might be transferring invasive species.

The Don’t Pack a Pest program is administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture and Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Its goal is to remind international travelers to declare agricultural items in luggage in order to avoid transporting invasive pests and diseases.

Partnering nations include Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Johns, U.S. Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands.

If you’re traveling to Shannon, Ireland, say hello to Thanuja and Kingston for us. But first, check www.dontpackapest.com to ensure you are not carrying contraband in your luggage.



DPI Diary

February 6, 2015

An eclectic collection gleaned from FDACS-DPI social media this week

State Fair is underway!

The Florida State Fair opened this week and we shared the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association’s extensive album of photos from Day One at the fair, which you can browse here.

HealthFairSpiders15May14While you are at the fair, visit the Ag Hall of Fame Building and say hello to the folks from FDACS-DPI, UF-IFAS and USDA at the popular Insect Encounter.

Jammer is still on the mend

jammerhearts_smJammer the FDACS-DPI ag detector dog, is continuing to improve after surgery that took place in January at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary medicine. he should be back protecting Florida agriculture by end of March. Read his story here.

. . . while Audi finds contraband

Meanwhile, in central Florida, detector dog team Audi and Greg Farina, inspecting packages at a FedEx shipping hub, intercepted a package from California containing two bags of Kaffir lime leaves. Because it is unlawful to move into Florida any and all kinds of citrus trees and parts thereof except by a special permit, the plant product was confiscated. Our detector dogs work every day to protect Florida agriculture from invasive plants.

Audi and Gregg Kaffir Lime Interception

Audi alerts handler Greg Farina to package containing Kaffir lime leaves.


Don’t Pack a Pest program continues to form international partnerships

Another team working to keep invasive plants and diseases out of Florida returned this week from Panama. A delegation representing the Don’t Pack a Pest travelers program received a positive response from officials, and Panama is expected to join the partnership later this year. Other nations that participate in the program include the Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. The Don’t Pack a Pest program was launched in 2010. It is aimed at deterring the movement of invasive plants, animals and diseases that threaten agriculture and the environment as well as human and animal health. It is a cooperative effort administered by FDACS in cooperation with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).


Visiting Panama and seeking to expand the Don’t Pack a Pest program to that nation are (Left to right) Andrea Simao, USDA; Richard Gaskalla, Director, FDACS-DPI; Arlene Villalaz, USDA; Denise Feiber and Ellen Dyck, FDACS-DPI.

Gainesville headquarters hosts CAPS workshop

The Doyle Conner Building in Gainesville hosted the Florida Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Program Workshop Wednesday. The Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Program is a combined effort by state and federal agricultural agencies to conduct surveillance, detection, and monitoring of exotic plant pests of agricultural and natural plant resources and biological control agents. Survey targets include plant diseases, insects, weeds, nematodes, and other invertebrate organisms.

IFAS offers planting advice for home gardeners

February brings planting opportunities for Florida’s gardeners and UF-IFAS has provided a map and a gardening calendar  to guide gardeners everywhere in Florida. The handy site includes links to useful gardening websites, all based on University of Florida research and expertise. Potatoes can be planted in the northern region. In central Florida, warm season crops including peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes can be planted now. In South Florida, sweet potato, eggplant and squash can be planted while temperatures are cool this month.

New Fresh From Florida ad campaign kicks off in 10 major markets

A new advertising campaign featuring “Fresh From Florida” produce and seafood kicked off this week. It includes television commercials in all of Florida’s 10 major media markets that will promote the state’s agriculture and seafood products and the “Fresh From Florida” brand. The new ads will feature three recipes that were developed by Chef Justin Timineri, Florida’s Culinary Ambassador.


The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry is re-posting this news release from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This is an unexpected pathway for this pest.

The original post is here:



LEWISTON, N.Y. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists working at the Lewiston Bridge discovered live Khapra Beetle larvae, one of the world’s most destructive insect pests, inside a shipment of rain ponchos from China.

Destructive Pest

Trogoderma granarium Everts, commonly known as Khapra Beetle discovered inside a shipment of rain ponchos from China.

On October 28, 2014 an ocean container being hauled by a commercial tractor arrived at the Lewiston Bridge and was referred for further examination.  During a physical inspection of the commodity, CBP agriculture specialists discovered three live insect larvae.  The container was sealed and the pest was forwarded to USDA for identification.

On October 30, a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – Plant Protection and Quarantine entomologist identified the pest as Trogoderma granarium Everts, commonly known as Khapra Beetle.  The shipment was sealed and re-exported to Canada.

“Intercepting Khapra Beetle is vital to the agriculture industry,” said Randy Howe, Director of Field Operations for the CBP Buffalo Field Office.  “In this case, it isn’t common for Khapra Beetle to be discovered within this type of commodity.  The vigilance of the agriculture specialists was extraordinary and stopped a potentially destructive insect from entering.”

Khapra Beetle poses a high risk to U.S. agriculture and is one of the world’s most destructive insect pests of grains, cereals and stored foods.  Known as the ‘dirty feeder,’ it damages more grain than it consumes because it contaminates grain with body parts and hairs. These contaminants may cause gastrointestinal irritation in adults and especially sickens infants. Khapra Beetles have the ability to tolerate insecticides and fumigants, and can survive for long periods without food.

According to the APHIS, previous infestations of Khapra Beetle have resulted in massive, long-term control and eradication efforts at great cost to the American taxpayer.

California implemented extensive eradication measures following a Khapra Beetle infestation discovered there in 1953. The effort was deemed successful, but at a cost of approximately $11 million. Calculated in today’s dollars, that would be about $90 million.

Khapra Beetle is the only insect in which CBP takes regulatory action against when found dead or alive.

Giant African land snail currently confined to Miami-Dade County

The giant African land snail is an invasive species that has been threatening the environment in South Florida since September  2011, when it was found in Miami-Dade County. The snail is known to consume more than 500 plant species as well as stucco on buildings. It can grow as long as eight inches and as wide as four inches.

snailbucketThis species of snail poses serious health risks to humans and animals that come into physical contact with them. It is important to report them when you see them because GALS can multiply quickly by laying up to 1,200 eggs per year. They can  live up to nine years. They might be spread on cars or other objects, including plants, that are moved around thestate. The snail has been found in 26 different core areas of Miami-Dade County and has not been found elsewhere in the state.

A FDACS inspector looks for giant African land snails in Miami-Dade County.

A FDACS inspector looks for giant African land snails in Miami-Dade County.

Teams from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, with the cooperation of the public, have captured about 141,000 snails since the beginning of the eradication program. The giant African land snail can cause a significant amount of damage to crops, landscapes and human and animal health wherever it is found. It is illegal to import the GALS into the United States without a permit. If you suspect you have seen one  in your area, report it. Call the Division of Plant Industry Helpline at 1-888-397-1517. We here at DPI could not keep the state of Florida safe from GALS and other invasive species without the help of members of the  the public who call in when they  find a suspect snail. The vast majority of captures have been the result of the public reporting sightings of GALS. We thank you for your cooperation and your assistance in the eradication of the Giant African Land Snail.


Here is a link to view a map of the core zones.



DPI Diary

December 13, 2013

A summary of social media activities at the FDACS Division of Plant Industry

Puerto Rico joins Don’t Pack a Pest program


Representatives of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and U.S. Customs and Border Protection flank a sign at the airport in San Juan as they prepare for the official launch of the Don’t Pack a Pest program in Puerto Rico. The USDA is also a partner in the program.

The big news this month has involved the Don’t Pack a Pest outreach program, as Puerto Rico became the second nation in the Caribbean to become a partner. Jamaica was the first, launching its program in 2012.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),  the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Aerostar Airport Holdings and the Department of Agriculture of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico joined in the Wednesday announcement at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport. Richard Gaskalla, director of FDACS Division of Plant Industry, traveled with other members of the FDACS/DPI team for the announcement. The multi-agency partnership is administered by FDACS/DPI.  You can read the official news release here.

Canker warning issued for Escambia and Santa Rosa

Last week, agricultural officials were asking gardeners and homeowners in Escambia and Santa Rose counties to be on the lookout for signs of citrus canker after one case of the disease was verified in Tiger Point. This is the first time canker has been detected that far north in Florida. Signs of the disease include the presence of lesions on the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves or fruit. The lesions are raised and usually surrounded by yellow halos. AP Story here.

Ushering in the holiday season

Honeybee on orange flowerWe worked to introduce some holiday cheer into the blogosphere by linking to Commissioner Putnam’s recommendation that you choose a Florida-grown Christmas tree and offering five reasons to keep Florida honey on your holiday list. For the benefit of our friends and followers who were shivering in sub-freezing temperatures and snow in the Northern and Western U.S., we joined Visit Florida in bragging about the absolutely glorious weather we’ve been enjoying this week.

Watch for giant African land snails in Miami

We are also reminding Miami-Dade residents to continue to watch out for giant African land snails as they prepare their yards and landscapes for the holidays. See our blog entry here.

“Mile a Minute” plant also a plague in Florida

mikania-micrantha-flowers-160Mikania micrantha is nicknamed “Mile-a-Minute” because it grows so fast. This destructive invasive species is denoted by a blooming white flower. It is also known as Chinese creeper, climbing hempweed and bittervine. Be on the lookout for it this holiday season. The weed can grow one-and-a-half feet per week in optimal conditions. It thrives in Florida’s warm, humid environment, especially in the Redlands area of Homestead, where it was detected for the first time in the continental United States in 2009. More here.

Ready for the Strawberry Festival?

StrawberryWe also shared the news when tickets went on sale for the Florida Strawberry Festival’s popular entertainment shows on the Wish Farms Soundstage. The twenty-two shows include Rascal Flatts, The Band Perry, Boyz II Men and Little Big Town. Tickets can be purchased at the Florida Strawberry Festival’s website,  by calling (813) 754-1996, or by going to the Amscot Main Ticket Officer at 2209 W. Oak Avenue in Plant City. The festival runs from February 27 through March 9.


Puerto Rico has become the second country in the Caribbean to partner in the Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest program.

Here is the official news release.

Puerto Rico Launches Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest Partnership

December 4, 2013

CAROLINA, Puerto Rico – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Aerostar Airport Holdings, the Department of Agriculture of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, joined in announcing Wednesday the implementation of the international Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest outreach program, a multi-agency initiative. The announcement was made at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport.

Puerto Rico is the second country in the Caribbean to partner in the Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest. Jamaica was the first Caribbean partner and launched their program in 2012.


Richard Gaskalla, director of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry, comments at event in San Juan marking Puerto Rico’s becoming a partner in the Don’t Pack a Pest program.

The Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest program is designed to raise public awareness about the risks associated with passengers potentially introducing pests and diseases into Puerto Rico, the United States and the Caribbean Region, by carrying agricultural and food items in their luggage when they travel.

“The Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest program was conceived to extend the protection of Florida’s food supply and environment to our Caribbean neighbors and beyond,” said Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry Division Director, Richard Gaskalla.  “Without the enthusiastic cooperation of Puerto Rico, this successful partnership would not be possible.”

“We are bringing information to all our constituents and partners because we want them to work closely with us,” stated Leyinska Wiscovitch, from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Thousands of pounds of agricultural produce are confiscated at ports of entry from passengers on a daily basis.  Some travelers are not aware these items are prohibited, while some knowingly attempt to bring in prohibited items.

“Agriculture inspections are a crucial part of the inspection process for items entering into the country,” said Marcelino Borges, director of Field Operations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  “A single dangerous pest could cause millions of dollars of damage to our nation’s crops.”


Customs and Border Protection uses detector dogs to find contraband agricultural products in travelers’ luggage.

These undeclared items pose a serious threat to our food and natural resources as exotic invasive pests can enter through this pathway and become established, causing millions of dollars to manage or eradicate.  In addition, these unwanted invaders can result in loss of export markets due to quarantines and can negatively impact natural areas.

“Our office of Agro-commercial Integrity remains vigilant that all agricultural products comply with phytosanitary requirements”, said Dr. Myrna Comas, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. ”We join this partnership to create awareness.”

If travelers know ahead of time what they can and cannot take in their baggage, they will avoid possible fines as well as avoid having the items confiscated. The focus of this creative agricultural protection outreach program in Florida and Puerto Rico is very appropriate as both are linked as high risk areas vulnerable to new pest introductions through trade and tourism.

“At Aerostar Airport Holdings we recognize our responsibility in providing the necessary support to the agencies that protect Puerto Rico and US borders from invasive plant pest and diseases. We look forward to collaborate with this program since SJU has been recognized as an important destination for this initiative,”  stated Agustin Arellano, CEO for Aerostar Airport Holdings, and current operator of the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport.

The Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest includes airing a sixty (60) second video and the placement of signs at strategic areas in major airports and cruise ship ports, along with distribution of other public education materials to the traveling public. These program elements deliver a simple message, “When you travel, declare agriculture items, Don’t Pack a Pest.”

CBP agriculture specialists are determined to safeguard American Agriculture by demonstrating careful diligence as they examine imported shipments detecting and preventing entry into the country of exotic plant pests and foreign animal diseases that could harm our agricultural resources.

To view the video visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0S99cwnDqM&sns=em



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