This bad boy is an Asian Long Horned Beetle. Most people on DK will know about some of the historical impact of alien species such as Dutch Elm Disease and Chestnut Blight, the Gypsy moth, fire ants, starlings* and so on. The invasion has been going on for five centuries, but the 21st century version is particularly dangerous. Why? Most places on the planet are no more than 24 hours apart by air transport, so a beetle hiding in a wooden souvenir can easily survive a flight and emerge in a day in a new home continents away. And the huge international trade via cargo containers means relatively few are inspected for stowaways. Alien species can come via wooden pallets, in packing material for flowers or fruit, on the uncleaned shoes of hikers, in pockets, trouser cuffs and much more. They also can invade from cargo ship bilge water (the zebra mussel), aircraft landing gear (one possibility how the brown tree snake got to Guam), bait used in fishing and particularly through the pet trade. This isn’t a minor problem. In economic terms in the USA alone it’s on the order of a hundred billion dollars a year. Losses are most severe to insects and crop diseases they carry. Florida’s citrus crop is at risk. The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid threatens to wipe out hemlocks in the Eastern USA. The Emerald Ash Borer is in the process of destroying ash trees in the US, which may not sound like much, but baseball fans know that bats made from maple, because of the shortage of traditional ash, can split from the impact of a pitch and endanger players. rests in 2013 estimated the potential loss of all ash trees in our forests. American Forests estimate the potential loss of all ash trees in our forests—more than eight billion trees, they say—as worth more than $280 billion. That’s not a typo, it’s billions, not millions. Some aliens are at this point more bothersome than dangerous. The Giant African Snail is a threat to Florida. The snail is huge, and while it eats many commercial crops, also happily chomps plaster and other materials around South Florida houses. For us Floridians (those south of say, Orlando) the Cuban tree frog and the Cuban anole are among the most common urban wildlife (with the Indoeuropean gecko becoming more common—we have some around our house). The Cane toad (aka the Giant Toad), originally introduced to control pests in sugar fields, can live to 15 and weigh four or five pounds—aside from being ugly, it can poison pets who bite or lick it. Other examples include the Zebra mussel and the Quagga mussel. The Zebra mussel came to the Great Lakes in bilge water in a ship coming from the Black Sea—bilge water used to be pumped out where ever the ship wished, but now there are strict regulations, apparently as a consequence of the zebra mussel. This little creature is hardy and prolific, and in its millions of millions clogs intake and outgo pipes for utilities all around the Great Lakes. That means cleaning, filtering and monitoring at a considerable cost. The quagga mussel appears to be altering the Lake Michigan ecosystem, with one estimate I read of 900 trillion quaggas on the bottom of the lake; filter feeders, they’ll affect the phytoplankton, and in cleaning and clearing the water, sunlight penetrates further down, assisting algae blooms. The bad boy in the photo carries the name Asian Longhorned Beetle. This guy (or gal, the photo didn’t specify). It has affected several urban areas (Chicago, New York City) because controlling infestations involves cutting trees. There goes shady neighborhoods. It is partial to maples and other hardwoods. Potentially this beetle can destroy the entire maple sugar industry and kill many billions of hardwood trees with huge impact on forests and forest-based industry. There are plenty of aliens that have gained toeholds but so far the potential harm has been contained. These include the Snakehead (a fish) and the Asian carp. Some invasions have had major local impacts: the European green crab has exploded in San Francisco Bay, where it outcompetes native crustaceans and threatens shellfish industries. There are some aliens waiting in the wings, including jellyfish, the mongoose, assorted snakes and lots of insects (insects can themselves cause damage or carry pathogens). The Brown tree snake is hardy, prolific and scares ecologists in Hawai’i, but it could do great harm in Florida (just as the Burmese python is doing now in the Everglades). It’s not all one way, of course. American mink, beaver, grey squirrels, Louisiana crayfish, American lobster, raccoons, the Colorado potato beetle and bullfrog are causing havoc elsewhere in the world. So, dear reader, why am I bringing this up in the weeks before the country decides if it really wants to elect a dangerous buffoon as president? Because that dangerous buffoon is likely to gut regulations and agencies that protect us from these very real and potentially very very costly invaders. A wall won’t work and without vigilance we’re in trouble. *If you’re rusty on starlings, they were brought to the US and released by a man who wanted America to have all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. Hare-brained ideas were just as common a century and a half ago as they are now. Here are some useful sources. –Good and somewhat dated general historical background may be found in two books by Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange and Ecological Imperialism. –NWF backgrounder NWF Invasive Species piece –US Dept Interior USDI Invasive Species Council –USDA National Invasive Species Info Center
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