Invasive species

Non-native plants and animals can destroy environments, and men and women must always be careful when dealing with such species.

Introducing chemicals or pollution into the environment can compromise an ecosystem. However, seemingly harmless non-native plants and animals can do an equal share of damage as well. Many people might be surprised to learn that invasive species can cause turmoil in the environment, even contributing to the destruction of certain ecosystems. Certain invaders are more virulent than others.

Non-native species of animals and plants are like enemy marauders. They may look like the other wildlife around, but they do not quite meld with the environment. When the ecosystem is not equipped to handle a non-native species, these species can quickly consume all of the resources and multiply so quickly that they effectively obliterate the native species.

Many non-native species of plants and animals become problematic when they are put into an environment inadvertently, such as when they hitch a ride on other items. Plant life may be brought home from a vacation abroad, or new animals can be introduced to the environment if they escape as pets. Shipping vessels can bring back microscopic sea creatures, and insects have been known to hitchhike on various modes of travel. Although efforts are made to prevent new species from invading an area, it’s impossible to catch everything.

Because these plants and animals likely have no natural predators in their new surroundings, they can reproduce much faster and take over. The following are just a few of the globally invasive plants and animals that can threaten local ecosystems.

- Asian tiger mosquito: Spring and summertime outings have remained forever changed thanks to this highly invasive mosquito. Its distinctive black and white stripe pattern helps the Asian tiger mosquito stand out from others. Native to tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia, scientists believe it has quickly become one of the planet’s most widely-distributed animal species, spreading to at least 28 countries in a matter of 20 years. It’s believed these mosquitoes hitch rides on imported tires.

- Asian carp: There are many different species of carp, which are native to Russia and China. Large fish with voracious appetites, carp take food right out of the mouths of native fish. These fish also stir up sediment in lakes and riverbeds, changing clear water to murky water, thus pushing out some species that can no longer survive.

- Burmese python: These tropical snakes have been introduced into many warm areas, including Florida. Many were taken as pets only to outgrow their indoor habitats. They can live in the water and climb trees. With their massive size (20 feet in length), the pythons have few predators and require a lot of prey. Florida wildlife experts estimate 30,000 Burmese pythons reside in Everglades National Park alone. They even feast on alligators.

- Soapbush: Sometimes referred to as Koster’s Curse, this is a perennial shrub that is highly invasive in many tropical regions of the world. Originally from Mexico and the Caribbean, soapbush was introduced to Hawaii in the 1940s and quickly began taking over.

- Kudzu: This vine is native to Japan and can grow upward of a foot per day in the right conditions. It was brought to the United States to help prevent soil erosion and has never left. Since its introduction, Kudzu has been spreading across the United States at a rate as fast as 150,000 acres annually, according to environmentalists.

- Cane toads: Cane toads were introduced to many countries with warm climates as a method of naturally controlling crop pests. However, the toads’ own defense mechanism of secreting toxins makes them deadly to predators outside of their normal habitats. Therefore, there’s nothing to keep these cane toads in check, and they have wreaked havoc on native animal and plant species, especially in Australia.

- Asian long-horned beetle: Another invasive insect, the beetle does most of its damage in the larval stage. This is when it burrows through and feeds on tree wood beneath the bark. In large concentrations, the larvae can destroy a tree. The University of Vermont Entomology Research Laboratory says the beetle is currently infesting trees in Ohio, Massachusetts and New York. Trees must be removed, chipped and burned to destroy the invader.

Non-native plants and animals can destroy environments, and men and women must always be careful when dealing with such species.