Alien Invasion: The Growing Threat from Invasive Species

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Alien Invasion: The Growing Threat from Invasive Species

How would you like to find a 20-foot-long, 250-pound African rock python that's capable of swallowing a deer whole in your backyard?  Well, according to a report from National Geographic News,1 that's what's happening to people in an area west of Miami these days.

The Everglades had already been invaded by boa constrictors and Burmese pythons — perhaps as many as 100,000.  But the African python is notoriously aggressive and dangerous.  In the words of one herpetologist from the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, they are "so mean they come out of the egg striking."  In the area where they were discovered, only one road separated them from the Everglades.

If the African pythons entered that swampland — and most experts think they may already be in there — then the triple threat of the three species of constrictors would decimate the native population of already endangered animals there.  Pythons can eat a six-foot-long alligator.  The rock pythons can eat people, too.  In July 2009, a two-year-old Florida resident was strangled to death in her crib by a python.

The Burmese pythons have now gotten into the Florida Keys, where they may well wipe out numerous endangered species that live there.  What's more, if the African and Burmese pythons begin to interbreed, the hybrid pythons that result may well be even more ferocious — and, of course, as the snakes proliferate, they will inevitably enter other states. 

But the python is just the most dramatic and emblematic example of what has become a global problem:  invasive species.  Getting rid of invasive species is extremely difficult and very expensive.  The species in question include birds, fish, crustaceans, plants, and many other life forms, according to research published in the journal Biological Conservation.2

Kudzu is a good example of what introducing a foreign plant can do.  This climbing legume vine from Asia was brought to the United States from Japan in 1876 because it was thought to be useful in preventing erosion, and also because legumes fix nitrogen, improving the quality of the soil.  The trouble was that nothing in the environment of the southeastern United States could stop its growth.  It now overtakes 150,000 new acres every year, spreading by runners that take root, as well as by seeds. 

Kudzu is extremely difficult to eradicate.  For example, grazing animals will eat it, but kudzu is difficult to bale and won't shed water easily, so it has to be put in a shed...

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