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Hawaii inspectors find small garter snake, Pacific tree frog in shipping container of Christmas trees

                                State agricultural inspectors inspect a container of Christmas trees.
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State agricultural inspectors inspect a container of Christmas trees.

A small garter snake and Pacific tree frog were among the pests found by state agricultural inspectors in a shipping container of Christmas trees on Friday.

Officials said the shipment was being held for secondary inspection due to a slug interception when the 9-inch snake was discovered. It was injured but died a short time later.

Officials said a reptile expert at the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo identified it as a garter snake, a native of North and Central America with a diet that consists of small prey, such as lizards, worms, insects and amphibians. The bite of a garter snake may release a mild neurotoxin, but it is not lethal to humans.

In 2004, a garter snake was found in a shipment of Christmas trees at the Daiei store in Kailua.

Last year, about 93,000 Christmas trees were imported into Hawaii, and the state’s Plant Quarantine Branch expects about the same number this year.

About 90 percent of the trees come from Oregon and the rest from Washington state. The good news is no trees are arriving from the area of Washington where the Asian giant hornets, also known as “murder hornets,” have been found, officials said.

Plant Quarantine Branch inspectors monitor each container that arrives and conduct enhanced inspections on any container with evidence of hitchhiking pests, officials said.

In 2013, inspectors began working closely with agricultural officials in Oregon and Washington state to develop a compliance program to increase monitoring and to develop protocols to prevent pests from hitchhiking on Christmas trees before shipment to Hawaii. The program has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of pests intercepted upon entry to Hawaii, officials said.

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