Giant beetles head to Smithsonian

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text"> Large insects, some measuring a half-foot in diameter and all considered harmful to agriculture in the U.S., were found in a package after postal workers thought they heard the parcel making noises. A group of local post office workers will be honored today for intercepting an illegal shipment of bugs.</span></div>
June 25, 2009 4:49:51 PM PDT
It was a bit of beetle mania in Center City Thursday as 26 of the huge insects captured by the federal government were sent to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.The big boys surprised postal inspectors in the Lehigh Valley in May of 2008.

So what makes these insects worthy of the Smithsonian, which typically gets hundreds of thousands of submission offers a year?

"They're kind of 'oh my' type of things, that we call them," said Smithsonian Collections Manager David Furth. "They get attention that way, and then they tell a story. We want them as an example of that story, and some princilples behind that story."

That principle of this story is about the danger of illegal imports, a trade that regularly brings devastating parasites into the country.

In this case, the beetles were shipped from Taiwan to Mohnton, Pennsylvania, in Berks County. Their packing label claimed there were just "toys and gifts" inside.

But postal inspectors quickly figured out something was amiss, when the package started to buzz and twitch. Customs agents confiscated the bugs, which are now mostly preserved in alcohol.

"Be advised: You cannot mail hazardous beetles through the U.S. Mail," said Postal Inspector Terry Thome.

"Those who bring in pests, such as represented here today, whether it is a hobby, for profit, or a deliberate effort, can cause considerable harm to the fruit and fiber protection of this country," said Agent Brian Haaser of the USDA.

A 36-year old man who illegally mailed the beetles got three years probation and paid a $5,000 fine.

"The message we're going to send is: If you conduct this activity and try to send things illegally, we will do our best to bring you to justice and prevent these items from going out into the general public," said John Kelleghan of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Smithsonian officials don't know if the beetles are going to be put out for public display, but they do say our crops and trees are lucky that the beetles didn't get out of the package and into the wild.

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