Saturday, August 31, 2002

Weed Wagons West!

According to this AP article from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the forests of Oregon, so recently in danger from massive fires, are now in danger from noxious weeds. Apparently weed recruitment is high in the recently burned areas, and some are worried that the forests will not be able to recover. There is additional concern that the weeds will spread across the country via equipment from other states used to fight the fires. Sounds pretty ominous, but I can't tell for sure, since the article doesn't mention a single plant species. Oregon's certainly got a lot to choose from, though, as you can see from this list.

Friday, August 30, 2002

Playing with Fire Ants

I have to admit I was pretty alarmed when I heard a news report this morning about Fire Ants being found in Maine. A web search brought up this report which indicates that they've been around New England for over 50 years. It turns out they're actually talking about the European Fire Ant (Myrmica rubra), a less aggressive species and a less painful biter than the Imported Red Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) that's causing major problems in the southern U.S. Still worth keeping an eye out for them though.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Very Very Vetiver

Vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides), native to Thailand, is often planted there to combat soil erosion. According to this article in the Bangkok Post, entrepreneurs in the country have begun to manufacture furniture and other items from the grass, and see its potential as a timber substitute. In the search for the best type of Vetiver grass for every situation, Thailand has also imported many ecotypes of this species from all over Asia, including India and Japan. Since this grass is already known to be weedy, will the foreign ecotypes lead to the development of an invasive species? Vetiver grass is also planted for erosion control in South Africa, and possibly in Mexico as well.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Fearing Feral Kiwi

You'd think that New Zealanders would be the last people to fear a kiwi, but when it comes to Asian Kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis), they're definitely concerned. It seems that the more commonly cultivated kiwifruit, A. deliciosa (also native to Asia), has escaped from fields and naturalized along river banks and forest margins. According to this HortNet article, members of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council are worried that A. chinensis will do the same. They are keeping a watchful eye on the situation, and hoping that farmers will use caution when growing the species.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Sea Chest, See?

The Cawthron Institute, a non-profit scientific research center in New Zealand, has released a report about the ability of sea chests to harbor non-native marine organisms. Before you form a picture in your mind of a treasure chest sitting at the bottom of the ocean, brimming with jewels and invasive species, you should know that a sea chest is actually a recess built into the hull of a ship. Each sea chest is covered with a grating, and can be a great hiding place for creatures who can't take exposure to the fast water flow around the outside of a ship. The above link only goes to a summary page; be sure to click on the "Read more..." link to see the full report (.pdf format).

(Thanks to a member of the ALIENS-L listserver for posting a link to this article)

Monday, August 26, 2002

Spotting a Sharpshooter

The costly glassy-winged sharpshooter (Homalodisca coagulata), an insect native to the southeastern U.S., continues to spread through California, and has now made its way to Sacramento. Since the sharpshooter prefers to feed on grape vines, they are considered a major threat to the California wine industry, but not because they are doing direct damage to the vines. It turns out that these insects are very effective transmitters of Pierce's disease, caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa. There is no cure for Pierce's disease, which clogs the tissue that transmits water and nutrients through the plant, so infected plants must be destroyed.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Purging the Spurge

The Canadian Globe and Mail published this story about Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) problems in Manitoba. The species, which is not only toxic to grazing animals, but to neighboring plants as well, has taken over acres and acres of agricultural land since it first arrived from Asia in the late 19th century. The Nature Conservancy, which owns a big chunk of prairie land infested with leafy spurge, has been experimenting with using insects as a biological control to keep populations from spreading further. The article also contains some general information about invasive species.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Blue Hawaii

From Yahoo! News comes this report about the current status of the fight against invasive species in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Islands, which are filled with endemic species (many of them endangered), have been dealing with a constant barrage of non-native plant and animal introductions. One result of this is the formation of organizations and councils dedicated to dealing with invasive species, several of which are mentioned in the article.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Army Battles Kudzu

Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is still a force to be reckoned with, and is in fact making its way northward through the U.S. According to this article from the Washington Times, the U.S. Army is dealing with a major kudzu infestation at Fort Pickett, Virginia, where the aggressive vine is taking over training grounds, rendering foot paths difficult to traverse and roads invisible. This Chinese native, introduced to America in the late 19th century as an ornamental and in the early 20th century for erosion control, is also a haven for the deadly copperhead snake (Agkistrodon contortrix), making infested areas even more dangerous for soldiers.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

There's More to Maryland than Snakeheads

Though the spotlight has certainly been shining on the evil, satanic, voracious, and possibly immortal Snakeheads hiding out in Maryland ponds, the state is currently battling many other invasive species as well. This article in The Baltimore Sun seeks to remind readers of the ongoing problems with several non-native plants and animals, as well as efforts by the government and volunteer groups to fight them.

(Thanks to a member of the ALIENS-L listserver for posting a link to this article)

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Anticipating the Mealybug

The Pink Hibiscus mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutus) has arrived in the U.S., but no one has been caught off-guard. According to this story at, the USDA has been preparing for this invasion for years, with the advance knowledge that the species attacks a wide range of agricultural crops. While pesticides have been relatively ineffective in combatting this Asian pest, researchers have had success with a parasitic wasp (Anagyrus kamali) from China that lays eggs inside the adult mealybugs. So for several years a lab in Puerto Rico has been breeding the wasps, anticipating their eventual release in the U.S. Looks like their time has come, and the place is Florida.

Monday, August 19, 2002

Martha Stewart would love this

photo of Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes

Women in Africa have found a great use for the "carpets" of Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) that are clogging waterways all over the continent: they weave the plants into pillows, furniture, and yes, carpets. According to this article posted at, women's groups in Kenya are hoping to advertise their use of the nasty South American invasive plant to encourage tourists to make purchases. In Uganda, prison inmates are trained to harvest Water hyacinth and create textiles from them.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Hedgehog Hunting

Researchers at the Scottish Natural Heritage have concluded that the best way to protect populations of birds on the Western Isles is to kill the hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) that are eating their eggs. According to this article from the New Scientist, the SNH considers the hedgehogs the primary cause of a major drop in the numbers of ground nesting birds. Some animal rights groups question the conclusions of the SNH, and think the scientists are overlooking other important factors that could be affecting bird populations, such as human disturbance. European hedgehogs, native to mainland Britain, were introduced to the Western Isles in 1974 for pest control.

(Thanks to a member of the ALIENS-L listserver for posting a link to this article)

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Trumpet Creepy

I was at one of my field sites along the Monatiquot River in Braintree, MA when something brightly colored caught my eye, way up in a pine tree. Turns out it was a Trumpet creeper flower (Campsis radicans), and there was a large well-established vine twining its way up the pine trees (see photo). This is a fairly natural site adjacent to a strip mall, so it is unlikely the vine was planted anytime recently. Trumpet creeper is native to the southern U.S., and while it is considered invasive, it is regarded as a tropical species that would not do well in areas with cold winters.

Trumpet Creeper inflorescence

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Make Mine Supersized!

Possibly the coolest marketing of an Invasive Species product ever: As reported at the ENN website, the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network has produced a CD-ROM to educate the public about introduced species. Even if you do not want to order a copy for yourself (at a mere $2.50!), you should still check out the CD-ROM, titled "Exotics to Go." Also, the Minnesota Sea Grant offers a variety of free and cheap publications that you might want to check out.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Science Daily is reporting that researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri are publishing the results of a study that uses molecular techniques to trace the heritage of, among other plant species, the invasive Saltcedar (Tamarix spp.). Apparently there are differences in populations that grow in different parts of the country, such that insects introduced for biological control will eat one type but not the other. It turns out that the most aggressive Saltcedar is actually a hybrid between two species that do not grow together in their native Asia. You can read more about the biocontrol program for Saltcedar by going here.

Monday, August 12, 2002

As the Nuclear Worm Turns

The Washington Post has this really silly article about the bizarrely named "Nuclear Worm" (Namalycastis spp.). These giant (5-7 feet long!) pink worms are being imported into the U.S. from their native Vietnam for use as fishing bait. One problem with this is that the worms are known to carry diseases, including cholera. They survive in a wide range of environmental conditions, and there is some concern that the worms could survive on their own in more tropical climates. The issue of importing and shipping bait is a complicated one: a profitable commercial industry must deal with states taking steps to prevent the import of species when there is a significant threat that they could escape and become invasive.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

New Hampshire, New Hampshire

The New Hampshire Invasive Species Committee, part of the Department of Environmental Services , came out with a list of proposed prohibited and restricted invasive plant and insect species for the state. Created this past July, the list is full of well-known baddies, many of them already banned in NH since thelate 1990s. The New Hampshire Watershed Bureau web site has lots of other information about non-native plant species.

(Thanks to a member of the Yahoo! newsgroup ma-eppc for posting info about this topic.)

Friday, August 09, 2002

Carpe Diem!

The U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service is considering banning the importation of the Black carp (Mylopharyngodon piceus), according to this article from the Environment News Service. The carp were first introduced from Asia in the 1970s, both as a food source and as a biocontrol for snail and insect populations. Now the fish are considered to pose a danger to native snails and mussels, and there is a concern that they will escape from fish farms into nearby rivers. Here's a link to an older article reporting on the public outcry resulting from the proposed release of black carp to fight parasite-carrying snails in Missouri catfish farms.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Toadal Annihilation

CSIRO is at it again. Previously mentioned in this weblog for their research on creating populations of all-male carp, scientists at CSIRO are also working on a way to keep Cane toad (Bufo marinus) tadpoles from turning into adults. According to this article at, they hope to find a protein that is essential to adult toads but not found in tadpoles, so that they can then give the tadpoles a "disease" that makes them produce antibodies for that protein. Keeping the toads from reaching a reproductive stage may be the key to controlling this invasive and toxic species, a South American native that is hopping rampant all over Australia.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Pick Your Poison

The results are in: State officials in Maryland have decided to deal with the Snakeheads (Channa spp.) in a Crofton pond by poisoning the entire pond. After using herbicides to kill the pond's vegetation, the fish-killer Rotenone will be applied. Eradication has its costs, in this case it is the sacrifice of the entire flora and fauna of a pond. Hopefully the Snakeheads won't use their ability to walk on land to escape to a new body of water.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Purple Rage
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has this story about a several county effort to document populations of the invasive wetland plant Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) in Wisconsin. Researchers hope to take the survey statewide by next year; the last state survey for Purple Loosestrife was done back in 1987. Be sure to check out the link to a nice graphic showing the current mapped distribution. close-up of Purple Loosestrife flower

Monday, August 05, 2002

Making Money Fighting Weeds

South Africa has started a poverty-relief program where teams of workers are trained to recognize and remove alien plant species. This is part of the Ukuvuka Operation Firestop program, whose goal is to rid the region of invasive plants that are one of many causes of devastating alterations to the fire regime. The workers get paid by the Cape Peninsula National Park to remove pine trees and spray other invasive plants with herbicide. No info on exactly which species they are targeting, perhaps because South Africa has so many of them.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Raising Snakehead Awareness

Yahoo News is reporting that the now notorious Snakehead fish (Channa spp.) has been found in Lake Wylie in North Carolina. It is likely that many other accounts of this species in the wild will start to crop up across the country, now that awareness has been raised. As of right now, it is still legal to import Snakeheads in North Carolina, and in many other states as well. Here are some recipes in case you find one yourself and want to eat it.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

The Beetles make a comeback...

...but without Ringo (yes, different spelling, I know). The Chicago Tribune is reporting that a lone Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) was found in Chicago on July 29. Researchers are paying careful attention to this beetle sighting, as they are trying their best to accomplish a very difficult goal: complete eradication of the species from the area.

Friday, August 02, 2002

Lions and Tigers and Hogweed, oh my!

WBZ Radio is reporting today that Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) has been found at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, MA. The plants, which have been removed, were originally mistaken for a smaller, less dangerous relative, Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). The state Department of Food and Agriculture has received over 100 reports of sighting of Giant hogweed since the alert went out last week.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Yes, New York, there is a Sandy Claws

A former importer of seafood has been charged with illegally importing over a thousand Chinese mitten crabs (Eriocheir sinensis) into New York last year, according to this story posted at The crabs now thrive on the west coast of the U.S., but they have not yet established on the east coast. Though it is illegal to import the crabs for any reason other than scientific research, they have shown up in Chinese markets in Queens, New York, where they fetch a high price.

(Thanks to a member of the ALIENS-L listserver for posting a link to this article)