MAF investigates scorpion sighting

23 June 2000

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is investigating a sighting of scorpions in Hawkes Bay.

A small number of scorpions are believed to have come into New Zealand at the beginning of May in packaging around empty wine bottles. The wine bottles were unpacked earlier this month, and MAF was notified via its free phone for exotic disease and pest emergencies (0800 809 966), by an entomologist on Wednesday.

The scorpions are believed to be from Portugal, and not believed to be one of the deadly scorpion varieties. The bottle consignment was fumigated in Portugal prior to being shipped, but must have been re-infected prior to shipment, or in transit.

Ministry staff searched the Hawkes Bay site yesterday, and so far no scorpions have been found.

"The fact that no scorpions were found is hardly surprising since the pallet of bottles was unpacked three weeks ago, and we were only notified of the sighting on Wednesday.

"An employee of the consignees saw a number of small scorpions at that time, but did not realise the significance of the incident as he didn't realise that New Zealand is free of such pests. Quite by chance he told a friend, who is an entomologist, and the entomologist immediately contacted MAF," said Derek Belton, MAF's Programme Manager, Surveillance and Disease Response.

"It appears the employee was brushing the 2cm long scorpions off the pallet when one turned and raised it tail, in a scorpion-like fashion. We are taking it from the description that he did in fact see scorpions. The species of scorpion could be one of eight types found in Europe, none of which are particularly dangerous as far as scorpions go," Dr Belton said.

Bottles from the import consignment were distributed to four other premises in the Hawkes Bay region. As a precaution, the Ministry contacted these people and had the pallets unpacked. No further scorpions were found.

The Ministry will continue surveillance around the sighting area and also undertake night surveillance. MAF is exploring the appropriate insecticide treatment options for the premise with the owners. Hawkes Bay climate data during the past month indicates that it was not cold enough for the scorpions, used to a warmer climate, to have died.

Anyone who suspects they have seen an exotic pest or disease should call MAF's exotic disease and pest emergency hotline (0800 809966). "Our border can never stop the risk of unwanted pests and diseases from entering the country, and we are reliant on the vigilance and response of the public to notify us of suspected unwanted organisms immediately,' said Dr Belton.

For further information contact:

Derek Belton, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Programme Manager, Surveillance and Disease Response. Telephone: 04 474 4155.
Gita Parsot, MAF Communications. Telephone: 04 4989 806.

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