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Like a Bad Horror Flick, Alien Creatures Invade the U.S.
It reads like a bad 1960s horror film—alien creatures taking over the countryside and leaving devastation in their path. Giant snakes, flying fish, voracious rodents, and swarms of birds are making their way to your community! It seems so far-fetched. Sadly, this monster flick is more likely to be a documentary on NOVA or the NatGeo channel because the invasions are real.
When Monsters Attack
Non-native fish and wildlife are creating havoc in our eco-systems from Minnesota to Florida. They are decimating the landscape, kicking out native wildlife from their habitats, and costing taxpayers billions of dollars. The sad thing about this plot is that some of these invasions were preventable through improved processes in wildlife importing.
Snakes in the Glades
Florida has a long history of non-native species making their way to its land such as the rhesus monkeys in Central Florida. However, no other creature has the dangerous potential of the Burmese python that is slowly taking over the Florida Everglades. It is suspected that the original pythons were escaped or released pets. Estimates suggest that more than 30,000 are slithering their way through the Everglades. Park rangers are overwhelmed with trying to keep the pythons in check.
They pose a serious risk to the endangered Florida panther by competing for the same food sources. The internet is full of photos of battles between these monstrous snakes and powerful alligators.
Their apparent ability to adapt to our southern climates may allow the snakes to migrate further away from the Everglades.
Flying Fish of the Heartland
The south isn’t the only place under invasion from alien creatures. The American heartland is struggling with aquatic aliens collectively known as asian carp. Asian carp is a catchall name for species of silver, bighead, grass, and black carp from Southeast Asia. They were imported in the 1970s to filter pond water in fish farms in Arkansas. Flooding allowed them to escape. They are slowly migrating north up the Mississippi tributaries and there are fears that they will soon reach the Great Lakes. Once established they are virtually impossible to eradicate. Females lay approximately half a million eggs each time they spawn putting pressure on native fish populations. The huge, hard-headed silver carp also pose a threat to boaters. The fish can leap out of the water when startled by boat engines, often colliding with people and causing injuries.
Rodents of Unusual Size
Further south on the Mississippi river a large rodent, known as nutria, is creating a nuisance in the wetlands. Originally imported for the fur trade from South America, nutria currently populate 15 states. They were introduced to Coastal Louisiana in the 1930s and have caused a devastating effect on the fragile Mississippi River Delta. Eating the stems of wetland plants, nutria overgraze a wetland area eventually turning the wetlands to open water.
Resembling the Hitchcock film, this flying creature can be found throughout the U.S. and has the claim of the “most hated bird in North America.” The European Starling was imported as a New York businessman’s not-so-brilliant idea to import exotic birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to Central Park. Over 200 million European Starlings are now residents of American farms and cities. These nuisances run off native birds and cause over $800 million in damage to agriculture each year. That’s only the tip of the problems these birds cause.
How to Stop a Monster
All four of these alien invaders have one thing in common—human introduction to North America. The humans may have been well-intentioned, but they did not consider the long-term consequences of bringing exotic wildlife to our country.
There are still no regulations to analyze the risks of non-native species before allowing them to be imported. As a result, native wildlife—and public health—is threatened by additional invasive species. Recently the House of Representatives introduced a bill, the Invasive Fish & Wildlife Prevention Act of 2012, to improve the initial screening process for importing exotic fish and wildlife. While it won’t end the current invasions, it may prevent future ones.
Non-native species create imbalances in our ecosystems, putting endangered wildlife at risk. It costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year to deal with the invaders. It’s time to be proactive about wildlife importations.