Peter Dykstra: American Invasive Species Hall of Fame Part 1

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In recent years, Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina have battled against two of the biggest sports juggernauts without a Hall of Fame. Atlanta earned the College Football Hall of Fame; Charlotte snagged NASCAR Hall.


Presumably, Euclid, Ohio had less trouble landing the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame.

But here, ladies and gentlemen, here are the top five of my top 10 natural phenomena, flora and fauna, that grab the headlines and sometimes beat the tar in natural ecological systems.

I give you my nomination to become a charter member of the American Invasive Species Hall of Fame.

Kudzu (Lobed Pueraria)

Kudzu smothers native plants in outlying areas, depriving them of essential sunlight. (Credit: reofax/flickr)

Kudzu’s debut was at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. His native lands were Japan and parts of China. But its fragrant flowers suggested there might be some market potential in the United States.

It was a staple for state highway departments in Georgia and elsewhere, but it soon became clear that its growth—vines stretching a foot a day—was out of control. Restricted to the north by cold winters, kudzu has begun to spread thanks to global warming. His latest conquests include Oregon and Indiana.

Kudzu absolutely reigns in “edge” habitats – the edges of forests, near roadsides or agricultural fields. It smothers native plants in outlying areas, depriving them of essential sunlight.

Red lionfish (Pterois volitans)

With dozens of multicolored spines resembling Dr. Seuss, this native of Southeast Asian waters appeared in the Caribbean in the 1990s, then quickly spread to the US East Coast in the early 1990s. 2000s.

Lionfish tend to stick to reef formations, staying long enough to devour many native reef fish and crustaceans they can find.

Do you have any nominations for the American Invasive Species Hall of Fame? Send them to Peter Dykstra at [email protected] or @pdykstra.

These Seuss-like thorns can cause a painful sting. The lionfish is sufficiently well established that there is little hope that it can be removed. Some foodies and the grocery chain Wegman’s have promoted lionfish as a delicacy. But divers, keep your hands to yourself.

Cheat grass (Bromus tectorum L.)

cheatgrassis also probably a 19th century import. It’s now found in 50 states, but in parts of the hot, dry Great Basin pastures, the cheater can often reign supreme.

Cheatgrass blooms earlier than native grasses and sagebrush, crowding out the traditional food of grazing animals. “Cheating” occurs when the cheater dies suddenly and completely in late spring. Spring food becomes summer’s fire starter.

The cheat seed features sharp barbs that keep vets busy. Livestock can be injured by barbs in the face and mouth. Ranch dog paws have an annual fight with seed.

Fire ants (Solenopsis invicta)

Say what you want about fire ants, but at least they paid their dues in a small way. They are natives of South America whose first points of entry into the United States were probably the Alabama state docks in Mobile.

They spread throughout the southeast, creating impressive colonies. Any human, dog, or other creature that sticks a toe, snout, or anything else near the colonies begs a stinging, painful swarm.

But fire ants gave us EO Wilson, a young Alabaman whose fascination with ants blossomed into a lifetime as a sublime communicator on evolutionary biology.

Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense)

invasive species

Chinese privet (Credit: Melissa McMasters/flickr)

Chinese Privet just doesn’t look or smell like a bad actor. Tall and fast growing with fragrant white flowers, privet simply looks and smells like it belongs.

Privet belongs on this list because there is so little recognition that he is a bad actor. Its roots tower over native vegetation, literally sucking the life out of other plants. Its rapid growth literally casts a shadow over those same plants. Insects, birds and some small animals begin to seek food elsewhere.

It is still in most garden centers as an ornamental plant. Even some who raise the flag on the privet, like this important botanical gardenrecommend eliminating privet by spraying it with glyphosate, a much maligned herbicide.

There are also invaders who never lived up to their initial high expectations. In the 1970s, catfish and killer bees would have been on the verge of walking or buzzing across the land. Both failed.

Snakehead fish were believed to emerge from a pond in Crofton, Maryland in 2002 and threaten freshwater fish. But like their walking catfish predecessors, they faced a “Don’t Walk” sign. Just last year, Murder Hornets was all the rage. Now it’s crickets on murder hornets.

But my five invader nominees are for real. Next week we’ll be doing five more, including a gigantic snake and a smaller one that allegedly bit people in the most awkward place.

Do you have any nominations for the American Invasive Species Hall of Fame? Send them to Peter Dykstra at [email protected] or @pdykstra.

Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. His opinions do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or the publisher Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: Lionfish (Credit: Michael Aston / flickr)

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