3. Crabs Are Moving to Warmer Antarctic Waters
Using a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) sent 1,400 meters down, scientists have found that king crabs are entering Antarctic seas as a result of warmer water in the continental shelf. Crabs have been absent from Antarctic seas for 30 million years because of colder water temperatures, but these are now rising due to climate change. Scientists estimate that 1.5 million crabs are already in Antarctic waters, where they could eliminate native species in droves.
After the Antarctic continent separated from South America 40 million years ago, the circumpolar ocean current arose and resulted in Antarctica becoming “isolated .. from warmer air and water masses farther north” and being “plunged … into perpetual winter.” Natural selection has led to a unique ecosystem in Antarctica but also one in which species have lost their “natural armor,” says James McClintock, a marine biologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
As McClintock also notes, “you can pick up an Antarctic clam and crush it in your hand.” The creatures that have evolved in Antarctica — soft-bodied echinoderms and invertebrates such as starfish, brittlestars, sea lilies and sea cucumbers — include no predators with jaws able to crush the hard shells of, for instance, king crabs.
4. Burmese Pythons are Eating Endangered Species in the Everglades
As of early 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the sale of the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda and the northern and southern African pythons. All of these snakes have become a major problem in Florida and are considered invasive as these have established breeding grounds in the Everglades. Pythons have killed and eaten highly endangered Key Largo wood rats and also preyed on endangered wood storks.
Some breeders and pet owners have criticized the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ban. But federal and state agencies note they have already spent millions of dollars to deal with the threats the python poses and are concerned about having to spend more, should the snakes establish themselves in other regions.
5. Tawny Crazy Ants in Huge Numbers Are Pushing Out Fire Ants in Texas
Tawny crazy ants that get into people’s houses, nest in crawl spaces and walls and damage electrical equipment are displacing fire ants in Texas and some parts of Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. The crazy ants are native to northern Argentina and southern Brazil and have no natural enemies in the U.S. to keep their populations under control.
Accordingly, the crazy ants’ numbers can be 100 times as much as of those of the other types of ants combined. While crazy ants lack the painful bite of fire ants, they have so far been resistant to the types of poison used on fire ants. Due to their greater numbers, crazy ants (who are omnivorous) can monopolize food supplies, starve other species and even eat them.
Fire ants themselves originate in South America; they ended up in the U.S. due to human movement. Ed LeBrun, a research associate with the Texas invasive species research program at the College of Natural Sciences, calls them “opportunistic nesters” and advises people to check to make sure the crazy ants have not settled in an RV or the dirt of a house plant, lest they be transplanted via human activity.
You’d think that these stories would give those suggesting that elephants be brought into Australia to control fires and feral animals good reason to think again!
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