Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I Smell Mealybugs!!!

As proof of how amazing dogs are, the ISW offers you this MSNBC article about a dog team that is assisting California vineyard owners by sniffing out mealybug-infested grape vines. The vine mealybug (Planococcus ficus), native to the Middle East, is a relatively new insect pest in California, having arrived there in the mid-1990s. Interested readers will also want to check out this article from the magazine of Agricultural Research Service.

Thanks to Bob C. for sending in a link to the story and information about the vine mealybug.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Riding Out The Storm

The Tampa Tribune is reporting on attempts by scientists to assess the ecological effects of the past hurricane season on the Florida Everglades. The removal of the tree canopy over wide swarths of land brings sunlight to soil, seedlings and saplings that has been deprived of it for years. Will wind, canopy gaps and soil disturbance be the perfect recipe for the conquest of the Everglades by Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius) and other invasive plants? No one can be sure, but conservation managers are specifically targeting areas damaged by the hurricanes as the primary targets for species surveys and habitat management.

Interested readers will want to follow up with this hurricane-related ISW post from December 2004, and this National Geographic article about nutria in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (Thanks nuthatch!).

Tip of the virtual hat to Protect Your Waters for posting about the Tribune article.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Weekend Blog Blogging

This past week in the alien species sector of the blogosphere...

  • William Ripley Mohler III has caught himself a snake, a boa constrictor actually. One of several that has taken up residence in the Florida Everglades. A great story and even better photos.
  • The Urban Pantheist is doing "365 Urban Species," so there are bound to be some non-natives in there. Norway spruce is lucky number 52, while the House Sparrow is #55. I've already missed so many! Was #3 The Larch? The Larch. Update 5/1/06: Check out the comments section for more non-natives that made the list!
  • At the Another Another One blog, there's an interesting post about Giant Hogweed. Must remember to get a copy of that Genesis song...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend Photoblogging

bug of the day
Originally uploaded by urtica.

There are a lot of trees in my yard, and as a consequence we see our fair share of leaf-munching caterpillars in the fall and spring. This is an adult spongy moth (Lymantria dispar) I scared up out of a nook in one of our oak trees (Quercus sp.). Luckily it was not a "boom" year for its caterpillars, who can accomplish massive tree defoliation when their populations are high.

Our house is located less than 25 miles from the site of the original introduction of the spongy moth back in the mid-1800s: Somerville, MA.

Update 02/28/2006: Bad news for Texas: An Asian spongy moth was recently discovered in a trap in central Texas, according to this alert from the NAPPO. This is the first record of the species in that state. Read more from the American-Statesman.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Being A Bad Sport

As reported by The Royal Gazette, farmers and conservationists alike are unhappy about a call to import foreign soil into the island of Bermuda. The soil would be used to improve Bermuda's cricket fields, which are apparently in bad shape - according to some people this is keeping Bermuda's cricket team from becoming a "world class" competitor. Those who are against the plan are worried that it will lead to the introduction of non-native organisms that could negatively impact the environment. The article notes that for some reason, sterilizing the soil would render it unsuitable for use in a cricket field (IANACE so I have no idea why this is the case).

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mixing It Up

The Pierceland Herald and others are reporting that Canada is steaming over a U.S. plan to divert even more water into North Dakota. At issue is the fact that the Garrison Diversion project will connect two basins that have not shared water for over 10,000 years, raising concerns that the project will lead to the introduction of non-native species to Lake Winnipeg and Hudson Bay. As reported at the ISW back in November, Canada already lost an earlier battle to prevent the diversion of water from North Dakota's Devil's Lake into the U.S./Canadian River system. North Dakota is seeking these additional water supplies to avert severe drought conditions that are expected to develop within the next fifty years.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Furrier Transforms

Note: This posts reads better if accompanied by "O Nutria," a song by Spinn and friends.

NOLA.com has a story about the newest plan to control populations of nutria (Myocastor coypus) in Louisiana: sell their fur to the Chinese. According to the Louisiana Fur and Alligator Advisory Council, an increase in demand for nutria fur will lead to better prices for pelts, which will lead to more hunters out there trapping nutria and removing them from the environment. The success or failure of the state's previous plan, which was to sell nutria meat...in Asia...is not readily apparent. Perhaps they will have more luck selling the outside than the inside, since as the article notes there is already a market for the fur.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"They're gr-r-r-r-reat!"

Actually, you won't want to eat these frosted flakes, and neither will feral animals. As reported over at CNN.com, scientists at the University of Queensland in Australia have found that tiger poo is an effective repellant for feral goats, feral pigs, and rabbits. A grad student working on the project is attempting to identify what compounds in the tiger poo are causing the feral animals to shy away, and plans to test similar extracts made from the feces of native Aussie animals like the tazmanian devil. Her advisor notes that the mix they're currently using doesn't smell as bad as cat poo. Sheesh, when did "poo" become the official way to describe animal feces?

Tip of the virtual hat to TreeHugger for posting about the story.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Musseling In

Move over zebra mussels, there's a new bad-boy-bivalve in town! mlive.com is reporting that the Quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis), a close relative of the zebra mussel (D. polymorpha), now covers vast areas of the bottom of Lake Michigan. The Quaggas have overtaken much of the habitat formerly covered by zebra mussels, and also expanded their range to lower lake depths due to their increased cold tolerance. Scientists are now predicting the ecological impact of this species will be greater than that of the zebra mussel, one of the "poster children" of the fight against aquatic nuisance species. The Quagga was first discovered in the Great Lakes ecosystem in 1989, though past mentions of it were typically relegated to a note or sidebar in an article focusing solely on the zebra mussel.

Archival Oddities

After almost four years of posting, it's about time for the ISW to switch over from weekly to monthly archives. Hopefully the change will not break too many links. It certainly makes backing things up easier.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Weekend Blog Blogging

First up this weekend is an interesting post at Science Notes about the three invasive swallow-worts (Cynanchum spp.) that are problems in North America. Wait...three? Holy cow, there's a white one too! News to those of us who have only heard of the black and pale species.

Also this week, leporidae uses her LiveJournal page to show everyone that some species are invasive, and some are just annoying native ones.

Finally, the cane toad blogging continues here and here, but the best post of them all has to be the one from no fat clips! about the hysterical animated short called "Cane-Toad: What Happened to Baz?" A Must See! (warning: contains adult language)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Pink and Purple

Weekend Photoblogging

Pink and Purple
Originally uploaded by urtica.

The edges of the paved path at Squantum Point Park in Quincy, MA are on the verge of being dominated by purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), to the detriment of the cattails and any species that were planted there following "Stage 1" of the park's restoration (Stage 2 was never to be). I came upon a patch of very pink plants one day while walking through. You can see them mixed in with the more traditionally colored ones in this photo.

Friday, February 17, 2006


According to posts on the ALIENS-L listerserver today, Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus, but the exact species is not yet officially confirmed) have been discovered in a lake on the Galapagos Islands. Hundreds of the freshwater fish were removed from the lake on the island of San Cristobal (perhaps El Junco?), indicating that the introduction was not recent. There are no native freshwater fish species native to the Galapagos, and as far I can tell, stocking of freshwater bodies with fish is not allowed there.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

State of Indiana to Landowners: You Can Kiss Your Ash Goodbye

Indiana has abandoned plans to destroy two towns worth of ash trees, and with it, plans to eradicate the emerald ash borer beetle (Agrilus planipennis), according to this story from The Decatur Daily Democrat. Responsibility for controlling the spread of the beetles throughout Adams County now falls to property owners, who have been advised to remove their ash trees or apply chemicals to try to prevent the beetles from attacking them. The state cited a lack of resources, specifically federal funding, as the reason for the decision. A quarantine has also been expanded to keep any ash products from leaving the county (I hope someone notified the beetles about it!). The ISW previously reported about Indiana's emerald ash borer invasion back in January 2006.

Points for Discussion:

  • Does it make sense for the state to just give up? With limited resources, perhaps it is best to recognize when it is too late to control an invasion.

  • Now that landowners are in control of their own land, do you see the invasion getting worse, or staying the same? Do property-rights advocates consider Indiana's announcement a positive development?

Tip of the virtual hat to Sandy L. for posting this story to the ALIENS-L listserver.


Update 2/18/2006: Ohio joins the club and says "Hole-y Toledo!" (via the Toledo Blade - Thanks Bob C.!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Toadal Recall

Lots of cane toad (Bufo marinus) news this month:

  • Preparation-T - Want to make those cane toads easier to catch? The Interested-Participant blog notes that you can just apply a little hemorrhoid cream to their backs, and they'll go right to sleep. Seriously. No, seriously!
  • Toad Juice - The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a new cane toad-based fertilizer is now being tested. The environmental group FrogWatch had to stockpile toad carcasses to get enough for the first fertilizer batch, but if the product is successful it will be an excellent option for disposing of the bodies following any large-scale eradication program.
  • Long-legged Toads, you make my rockin' world go round! - In a recent study published in the journal Nature, scientists revealed that conditions in Australia may be leading to the rapid evolution of longer-legged cane toads. Toads with longer legs move faster and further than their short-legged counterparts, meaning that they are typically the first to arrive in new, toad-free territory. This has led to such a success in establishment that the cane toads of today are five times faster and have 25% longer legs than toads from sixty years ago [via news @ nature.com]. Hey, you'd run faster too if someone was trying to wipe hemorrhoid cream on your back!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Time Machine Not Included

The Nature Conservancy has this press release about efforts in Florida to modify legislation as a way of regulating introduced reptiles. While the original law governs only venemous snakes, the revised, version would make it illegal to buy, sell or move certain large reptiles without a permit. According to this article from the Sun-Herald, creatures to be targeted include pythons (Burmese, African rock, reticulated and amethystine) and monitor lizards (Varanus niloticus). It's not clear how much of an effect regulating new introductions of established species would have on the level of invasion, though it would certainly raise awareness about the issue...and the permits will cost $100 each!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Not so Sacred, Really

The sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) that live on the Atlantic coast of France may want to watch their backs, according to this report from Yahoo! News UK. Groups concerned with the African birds' penchant for disturbing native bird species are calling for a culling, or at least some egg addling. The ibis were intentionally introduced to France in the 1970s as part of a nature park. There are now more than 3000 of them living on the French coast. Those interested in bird invasions will also want to check out this ISW post from last week about the Muscovy duck.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Weekend Blog Blogging

This past week the ISW witnessed the evolution of a story, from a tiny press release to something almost viral. Not sure how it happened, but the media (both mainstream and blogospheric) really grabbed on to a story (based on a paper from 2005) warning about the impending population explosion of Chinese mitten crabs (Eriocheir chinensis), which have been in the UK since the 1970s. The result? A whole week of invasive crab blogging!

(P.S. - If you're wondering about the difference between "mainstream media" and "the blogosphere," guess which one can't resist making the v.d. jokes? :-)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

It's Not Easy Staying Green

Weekend Photoblogging

It's Not Easy Staying Green
Originally uploaded by urtica.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is one of the few herbs around that manages to keep its leaves alive and green the whole winter. This is a biennial species, and the leaf in the photo above is from the first year's growth - a basal rosette of leaves clustered close to the ground. The plant it belongs to will flower, and then die, this coming spring.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Baked Alaskans

Seems orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) has raised the heckles of a bunch of Alaskans, according to this report at Yahoo! News. Last summer Talkeetna Airport had to abandon plans to spray herbicide on a hawkweed-infested patch of land, after protesters decried the use of chemicals on the landscape. The protesters even went so far as to develop an official "Hawkweed Manifesto" that they distributed in flyers, recommending that people plant more hawkweed and listing places to buy the seed. State officials responded by working with State Representative Gabrielle LeDoux to file a bill that would ban both orange hawkweed and another, relatively newer Alaskan invader, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). While the article alludes to the manifesto being on the web, I can find no traces of it nor of the protesters. Meanwhile, this story is apparently serious enough to have made it into the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Database. Interested readers will also want to check out this older story from the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman.

Thanks to monopolist for suggesting this story ;-).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Suited Up

The Standard is reporting that a group of 700 Kenyans are suing their government over the damage caused by the invasive shrub known as mathenge (Prosopis juliflora, mesquite). The Attorney General, Minister for Environment, and National Environment Management Authority are all named in the lawsuit. AllAfrica.com also has the story, and notes that the plaintiffs claim that the government is responsible for allowing the Food and Agriculture Organization to intentionally introduce the plant back in the 1980s. As was reported by the ISW last year, a group of Kenyans sued the FAO over the mesquite invasion in May of 2005. [It's likely the same group of people involved, but I can't find any further information on the status of the first lawsuit.]

Bonus points to both news sources for using the plant's scientific name.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Destined for the Quirkies

Seems like it was just yesterday (well, two days ago) that the ISW was casually mentioning giant African snails (Achatina fulica). Now boingboing's got a story about the darned things literally pulling chariots of data. Some crazy tech geeks have shown that the snails can transfer data faster than a modem or even ISDN...by pulling a cart...with DVDs for wheels...while being enticed by some fresh green lettuce. Too weird.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Ugly Ducklings

Interesting article in the Herald Tribune about the Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) problem in Florida. Wild populations are on the increase, according to the Audubon Society's bird count data, and the birds are considered a "nuisance" species, meaning they do annoying things like eat people's plants, get themselves hit by cars, and turn people off with their funny-looking, warty faces. The President of the Peace River Audubon Society notes that the Muscovy duck problem is human-caused and can be human-controlled. They were (and possibly still are) released into the wild purposely, and many people enjoy feeding them. The ducks are also encouraged to settle into suburban neighborhoods due to the construction of storm-water retention ponds.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Flatworm Follies

This appears to be the very first mention of an invasive flatworm on the ISW...The Daily Yomiuri is reporting that land snails (Mandarina sp.) native to the Ogasawara Islands in Japan are being threatened by an introduced planarian (Platydemus manokwari). Native to New Guinea, Platydemus manokwari has been purposely introduced in some parts of the world as a control for the giant African snail (Achatina fulica). It has also been identified as a threat to native tree snails in Guam.

Bonus points to the Daily Yomiuri for using the scientific name of both the flatworm and the snail, and a tip of the virtual hat to Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers for posting about this story.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Weekend Blog Blogging

This week the ISW finds itself at 10,000 Birds, where you can go to read about the Eurasian collared-dove...in the Bahamas. That's some impressive range expansion. *coo*

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Too Soon!

Weekend Photoblogging

Too Soon!
Originally uploaded by urtica.

While walking the converted rail trail along the Neponset River in Dorchester, MA, I was surprised to see a cane of multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) already leafing out. I guess it got some mixed signals from the warm weather in January. The buds looked fine, even after last weekend's snow and ice, so something tells me it will take more than our typical February winter weather to kill this plant.

Friday, February 03, 2006

EPPO Location

If you want to keep up with the latest invasive plants and plant pathogens to hit Europe and the Mediterranean, consider subscribing to to the EPPO Reporting Service. Put out by the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization, the report is a monthly document chock full of issues of "phytosanitary concern." In this month's edition, you can find out about new insect pests discovered in Italy, Germany, and Israel, and the discovery of Lantana camara in AndalucĂ­a, Spain. There's also information about an upcoming conference for people concerned with Solanum elaeagnifolium and a request for information about the plant's geographic range. While the EPPO Reporting Service has been around for a decade, it just went paper-free, so don't forget to sign up for the email subscription if you're counting on your monthly phytosanitary fix.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

New Yorker Porker

Back in December, The New Yorker published a interesting story about feral hogs (Sus scrofa) in the U.S. While there have been plenty of feature stories about feral hogs, this is probably the first one that I can remember that tried to draw a correlation between the hog invasion and political leanings. The author of the article, Ian Frazier, points out that states that have recorded the presence of feral hogs are more likely to be red states, i.e. have voted for Bush in the 2004 election. Twenty-three of the twenty-eight states with feral hogs voted for Bush - including most of the south. Lucky for us Mr. Frazier doesn't really speculate about why, and once you get past the bizarre parts of his article, it's actually quite an interesting piece about hunting for feral hogs and the ferocity of the creatures when confronted.

Unless you can find a copy of the issue (#39 in v. 81) to buy, your only connection to the article, if neither you nor your university has a subscription, is a secondary source like this one at CorrenteWire. You can also catch a glimpse of the feral hog artwork done by Walton Ford and featured in the article. The ISW deeply regrets having missed this one when it first came out, and thanks biosparite for sending a nice email.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Biting the BioBullet

In many ways, battling aquatic invaders is more difficult than dealing with their terrestrial counterparts. Mechanical control requires specialized machinery built to perform underwater or to float on the surface, "physical removal" often means employing trained divers, and target-specific chemical controls are nearly impossible due to the reactive and dispersive properties of water.

Now from Biology News Net comes news that scientists have developed a new, more direct way of delivering toxic chemicals to zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha). Called BioBullets, the teeny, tiny microcapsules (about 100 micrometers in diameter each) each contain a small dose of potassium chloride, a compound toxic to the bivalves. By encapsulating the toxin in a mixture of vegetable oil and a surfactant, the researchers have found a way to avoid triggering the zebra mussels' typical response to poison, which is to shut down their filtering system, often for weeks at a time. Interested readers will want to check out the full article (.pdf), and this article from Red Orbit about Gill Kill, which sounds like the same product with a different name. And in case you were wondering, oh yes: BioBullets are patented.