Harvey Norman bed discovered riddled with invasive species from China

'I just noticed a couple of antennae sticking out of the wooden slats, and they were moving… and then an insect crawled out.'

A Tasmanian woman was understandably alarmed after discovering a $999 bed she recently purchased for her son at Harvey Norman turned out to be infested with exotic Chinese beetles.

“I just noticed a couple of antennae sticking out of the wooden slats, and they were moving… and then an insect crawled out,” Jenny Purtell told Yahoo News Australia.

What started with a tiny beetle ended with a multi-agency government response. Jenny has agreed to share her story so other Australians know how to recognise the presence of invasive pests that could pose a risk to the environment and economy.

Left - a hole in a bed slat. A five cent coin next to it for size. Right - one of the bugs on top of the bed box.
Four China fir borers (Semanotus sinoauster) were found in the slats of a bed purchased at Harvey Norman. Source: Supplied

More than one beetle discovered in Harvey Norman bed

While most of us couldn’t tell the difference between a solider beetle and a weevil, luckily Jenny is connected with her local environment and realised there was something odd about the creatures boring into her bed. They were “different to what she was used to seeing around Tasmania.

“I squashed it. And then I thought there shouldn’t be anything crawling out of a brand new bed at all,” she recalled.

After checking the label on the box, Jenny discovered the bed was made in China, so she swiftly dropped the dead insect in a jar and called the state’s biosecurity agency.

While the insect was being express-posted to the mainland for testing, Jenny was advised to spray her entire bed with insecticide. Doing so caused three more insects to flee the wood — all of which were captured.

We've included a picture below to help people identify what China fir borers look like. If you see something unusual or unexpected like this you can contact biosecurity agents on 1800 798 636.

The China fir borers with a ruler next to it.
The China fir borers (pictured) have already infested parts of Europe and Africa. Source: Supplied

Wood beetles pose threat to Australia's economy

The beetles have been identified as China fir borers (Semanotus sinoauster) and their discovery was deemed so significant it triggered a joint response from federal and state government agencies.

First on the scene were Biosecurity Tasmania which described them as a “species is of concern”. The federal Department of Agriculture (DAFF) then took an interest, saying the species has the “potential to cause economic consequences in Australia”.

Jenny was ordered to gather the bed and packaging and double wrap it in industrial-sized Glad Wrap, before biosecurity officers then hauled it away.

DAFF confirmed officers then traced back the remaining goods from the consignment and they were fumigated. “This is the first interception report for the species in Tasmania. There has only been one other biosecurity interception report for the species in Australia which was a border detection in 2012,” it said.

Urgent call to toughen Australia's biosecurity

Jenny’s incident occurred in June, and it appears the threat her China fir borers posed to the country has been neutralised. DAFF said government officers detect both live and dead insects of concern every day. “In the 2022-23 financial year there were about 31.5k pests and diseases identified,” it said.

Despite their best efforts, invasive insects are increasingly causing economic and environmental harm in Australia and overseas. Authorities appear to be unable to stop the spread of fire ants from Queensland, which have recently been detected in NSW.

Elsewhere in NSW, the honey-bee killing varroa mite has infested several locations across NSW since it was first detected in the Port of Newcastle in 2022. In Perth, the Polyphagous shot-hole borer, a beetle native to Southeast Asia, has the potential to destroy many native trees.

Because of the large volume of trade into Australia, Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox warns there’s always a risk of introducing new pests when products like wood are shipped into he country.

Invasive pests have directly caused more animal extinctions in Australia than any other factor, so Cox's warning is blunt. “There’s a big concern… that our biosecurity system is not well funded. We need better risk assessment and we need more resources," he said.

Cox argues the importers are not paying for the cost of the risk they create when they bring products into the country.

“We need more surveillance, we need to stop more things at the border so we’re not reliant on consumers doing the right thing. Because there might be other consumers who aren’t doing the right thing,” he said.

Yahoo understands Harvey Norman refunded Jenny for her purchase. The company has been contacted for comment.

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