The problem

Australia is currently free of some of the world’s most serious hitchhiker pests that threaten our industries, economy, environment and way of life.

This is because we have a strong biosecurity system that works to prevent pests entering and establishing here.

However, the risk of hitchhiker pests entering Australia is increasing due to climate change, intensification of agriculture, increased movement of people and products, and supply chain complexities. Pests are spreading around the world and are being found in increasing numbers on or within sea containers and imported goods.

An incursion of a hitchhiker pest in Australia could cost billions of dollars to eradicate or manage if they establish.

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Khapra beetle

What are hitchhiker pests?

In simple terms, hitchhiker pests are those that can ‘hitch a ride’ to Australia within or on shipping containers, imported goods and other forms of transportation. They are not native to Australia but have a specific biology or behaviour that enables them to use or associate with inanimate goods or containers, survive an extended journey, and actively disperse to Australia’s environment.

For example, khapra beetle can survive for several years in the cracks and crevices of shipping containers without food. This is due to a biological trait where they can go into a dormant state. Once they come across a food source (such as grain), khapra can re-emerge. If they are in a favourable place (such as a rural grain producing area of Australia), their population can grow rapidly and contaminate any nearby goods.

Learn more about some of the hitchhiker pests we want to keep out

The cost of a hitchhiker pest incursion

Hitchhiker pests can destroy entire agricultural industries. Some, such as khapra beetle, pose a human health risk. Some can become a major nuisance in outdoor settings (such as invasive ants) or the household (such as brown marmorated stink bug). They can also cause a wide range of problems for our native plants and wildlife by outcompeting them for resources and introducing diseases.

It is essential that we work together to keep hitchhiker pests out of Australia.

An incursion could cost Australia (Hafi & Addai, 2014)...

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over 20 years for khapra beetle

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over 20 years for red imported fire ant

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over 20 years for Spongy moth

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over 20 years for giant African snail

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over 20 years for Asian honeybees

How you can help

We need your help to protect Australia from the growing threat of hitchhiker pests.

Hitchhiker pests may be detected in a wide range of locations and items. We need every Australian and our international trading partners to look out for them. Together, we can stop these serious pests from calling Australia home.

Imports into Australia

You can help to look for signs of hitchhiker pests if you:

  • unload, process or transport imported cargo from our ports
  • store, unpack or sell imported goods
  • are a consumer who has recently purchased imported appliances, furniture and imported other goods
  • deal with imported goods on regional properties or farms
  • treat, pack, send or export goods to Australia.

Keep an eye out for anything unusual, especially when dealing with newly imported goods in Australia.

Exports from Australia

We also encourage those involved in the export supply chain to implement measures for minimising any pest and contaminant risks associated with outbound containers.

Giant African snail
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Where to look

Australia is full of native beetles, snails and ants. So how can you tell if what you have found is a hitchhiker pest?

Well, it’s all about where you find the pest (or evidence of it) and if it’s unusual to see it there. You are more likely to find hitchhiker pests in or around items that have recently arrived in Australia from overseas. This includes:

  • shipping containers
  • timber pallets used to transport goods
  • cardboard boxes
  • packaging such as loose fill packaging, plastic stretch film or sticky tape
  • recently imported break bulk cargo and large machinery such as tractors
  • warehouses or retail stores containing imported goods
  • homes containing recently purchased goods.

Many shipping containers and imported goods are opened for the first time at ports, depots, warehouses, importer’s premises, retail stores and even personal households. It’s important to be particularly vigilant of hitchhiker pests in these settings.

What to look for

Hitchhiker pests are great at hiding so you might only come across evidence of them. This could be:

  • sawdust and frass (insect droppings and skins)
  • small holes in timber, plastic or cardboard
  • insect eggs and egg masses
  • nests such as those from ants or bees
  • snails in a variety colours, sizes and forms
  • mud smears and dirt or soil.

In addition, always keep a look out for the pests themselves.

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Some examples of hitchhiker pests include:

Report it

If you see something unusual or unexpected, secure it and report it to us immediately.

Report any suspected detections to the See. Secure. Report hotline.

Call 1800 798 636 or use our online form.

We take all reports to the hotline seriously and treat them with confidentiality.

See. Secure. Report hotline

See secure report

What we are doing

The Australian government is committed to strengthening our biosecurity system.

The program aims to address the risk of hitchhiker pests that can be carried via sea containers, their cargoes and associated packaging.

The program is specifically focused on plant arthropod hitchhiker pests that can arrive via sea containers and the cargo they contain.

Learn more about the hitchhiker pest program

Recent insights

Here are some of the recent insights and updates from our work under the Hitchhiker pest program.

Sea container modification trials

The Australian government has commissioned a project with Murdoch University’s Harry Butler Institute to investigate if the structure of sea containers can be modified to reduce the possibility of hitchhiker pests being carried.

Learn more about this innovative project

Automated camera detection system trials

We have been trialling an innovative camera detection system to explore its potential to automatically screen sea containers for biosecurity pests and contaminants.

In collaboration with Trellis Data, an artificial intelligence (AI) solutions company, the Biosecurity Automated Threat Detection System (BATDS) project involved mounting a camera system equipped with AI technology onto ship-to-shore cranes at the port of Brisbane. It was then tested to see if it could automatically detect and correctly classify biosecurity material on the outside surface of sea containers, such as snails, insects and soil.

Extensive trials conducted from June 2022 to March 2023 showed the camera system could successfully capture images of biosecurity material. Although further work would be required before it can be adopted operationally, this milestone trial represents a noteworthy first-step towards integrating AI into our future work to further strengthen our biosecurity system.

Learn more about BATDS here:


Our web pages

*Not all species included on these webpages are considered hitchhiker pests 

External resources


Cost of incursion data sourced from: Hafi, A & Addai, D 2014, Economic consequences for species representing different pest groups affecting portfolio industries, ABARES report to client prepared for the Risk branch, DAFF, Canberra, September.

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