Revisiting the Ten Plagues: 10 Invasive Species That Plague America Today

One of the most memorable parts of the Passover Seder is the recounting of the ten plagues that befell Egypt. When I was little we sang silly songs about the frogs, the pests and vermin that overtook the countryside and rankled Pharaoh until he was convinced to let the people go. This year, while singing the same silly songs, it occurred to me that we have our very own set of plagues: species that are invading our environment and endangering America’s economy and ecosystems.

While some may say that Pharaoh brought his troubles on himself, we actually did introduce some of these pests ourselves, albeit with the best of intentions, only to suffer the havoc they now wreak.  Fortunately, in several cases there are also actions we can take to eliminate them before things get out of hand.

The vibration of boats' motors spurs asian carp to jump out of the water. (credit: USFWS)

Ten of Our Very Own Plagues:

  1. Asian Carp

    Fast-growing, aggressive fish that are outcompeting native species for food and habitat in much of the Midwest, where they have no natural predators. They are on the verge of invading the Great Lakes, which would have devastating consequences for fish populations, spawning habitats, anglers, boaters and the biggest freshwater ecosystem in the world. Aside from making them into gefilte fish, here’s how you can help.

  2. Cane Toads

    Originally introduced to fight crop pests, at which they were unsuccessful, when provoked cane toads secrete a toxin that is dangerous to pets and native wildlife, including their predators. With each female capable of producing 30,000 eggs in one sitting, they breed like warty, poisonous rabbits. It’s like that time Bart lost his frog in Australia.

  3. Starlings

    Famously introduced in 1890 as part of the romantic notion to bring all birds mentioned by the Bard to New York City, starlings spread and thrived. Now, despite their beautifully mesmerizing murmurations, starlings are causing $800 million in agricultural damage per year and millions more in damage to the airline industry.

  4. Kudzu

    The Vine that Ate this House (Credit: Natalie Maynor)
    Now known as the “Vine that Ate the South,” it was originally cultivated to feed livestock and prevent soil erosion. But it grows too well, taking over houses, choking out sunlight, and destroying other forest species. Kudzu, along with several other invasives like Garlic Mustard and Asian carp, is edible. Do your part, click for recipes.
  5. Giant reed

    Currently used as a bioenergy crop in Florida and Oregon and being considered for use in North Carolina, despite its listing as a noxious weed in a number of states. It also invades important riparian ecosystems and displaces native species across the southern half of the country. In California, giant reed caused extensive damage to ecosystems and human infrastructure in many coastal and inland watersheds. More than $70 million has been spent over the past 15 years to control this invasive weed. Check out NWF’s new report on avoiding the use of invasives for bioenergy sources.

  6. Zebra mussels

    Zebra mussels growing on zebra mussels (Credit: USFWS)
    By devastating the food chain, reducing fish populations, chocking water pipes and infrastructure and encrusting fishing equipment, boats and docks, these mussels have revealed the danger of biologically unsafe shipping practices. Learn more about NWF’s work to stop untreated ballast water from pouring non-native aquatic species into the Great Lakes.
  7. Stinkbugs

    They’re stinky. They’re taking over. Enough said.

  8. Emerald Ash Borer

    Since 2002 this pest has killed tens of millions of ash trees in the country. After devastating the tree-lined streets of Detroit, they are now munching their way across 15 states, eliminating habitat and creating fire hazards that imperil wildlife, humans and property.

  9. Burmese python

    Burmese Python, (credit: South Florida Water Management District)

    Snakes on the Plain! Everglades National Park is infested with nearly 100,000 of these gargantuan snakes, many descended from abandoned pets, and they’re making their way up the coast, as far north as Virginia. These pythons were recently listed as “injurious” by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which means FWS can prohibit their importation to the US and their use in interstate commerce. Given they are capable of eating goats, crocodiles, pets and livestock, and the threat they pose to birds, I’d say “injurious” is putting it lightly.
  10. Climate Change

    Ok, so it’s not a plant but it’s definitely plaguing us with increased extreme weather events, milder winters, drought, hail the size of snowballs, record-breaking floods, tornadoes in unanticipated regions and much more.  Unfortunately, it’s also giving many of these species a leg (or a leaf) up towards making themselves right at home in America. According to Harvard researchers, climate change is providing welcome conditions for invasive plants to dominate the landscape, which will only add to the burden facing farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and all Americans.  You can help by taking action to fight carbon pollution from power plants.

Want to learn more about how to set Americans free from these invasive plagues? Check out NWF’s work to stop invasive species and how you can help.

What invasive species do you see in your area? How are they impacting your local environment? Let us know, down below.