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“A Coquettish, Hitchhiking Bug”: The Rise and Fall of Pestina, Symbol of Invasive Pests and Agricultural Quarantine

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Before Woodsy Owl and Sammy Soil joined the United States Department of Agriculture’s cartoon pantheon, federal agricultural quarantine officers adopted a mascot of their own: a “bug girl” named Pestina. This character has faded from popular memory, but from 1958 to the early 1970s, she appeared in numerous pamphlets, posters, and television spots publicizing quarantine regulations. This essay explores how the USDA used Pestina to represent the unfamiliar threat of pest invasion to an increasingly mobile public, drawing on mingled anxieties about immigration and women’s sexuality with an attention-grabbing wink. In 1969, the USDA attempted to change course and rebranded this phytosanitary femme fatale as a blandly friendly public servant. The new, reformed Pestina apparently failed to attract much interest, and the USDA abandoned the character when a federal report complained that her appearance undermined her message.



agricultural quarantine, invasive species, mascots, pests

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Environmental History

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University of Chicago Press

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