3 Times Animals Unexpectedly Wreaked Havoc

Way back in 1998, “The Simpsons” did a fun and subversive take on invasive species, when Bart accidentally introduced a lizard species that took over the entire town of Springfield. Principal Skinner’s oblivious solution to the problem involved using one type of foreign species after another to remove each previous pest, eventually culminating in a troop of gorillas.

It’s worth watching the closing scene in its entirety, which shows human ecological folly at its worst — and satire at its best.

Of course, the writers were well aware of the subject they were poking fun at. After all, the history of invasive species — the accidental introduction of a foreign pest that ends up unbalancing the local ecosystem – has often not been accidental at all. Sometimes it has even been government sanctioned.

Here are four examples of invasive species that got well out of hand.

1. Rabbits in Australia

rabbit

Photo Credit: Sean McGee/Unsplash

This is the quintessential example — and, in fact, it was alluded to in another Simpson’s episode from the ’90s. Europeans brought rabbits to the “land down under” in the 1700s. But Australia has no native placental mammals, and its ecosystem evolved with marsupial mammals only — well, and a couple of monotremes.

On every other continent, placental mammals out-competed marsupials in most respects, so what do you think happened when rabbits arrived in Australia?

Lacking any natural predators on the island nation, rabbits have taken over, and they cause huge amounts of crop damage. The film “Rabbit-Proof Fence” was, of course, set in Australia, and said fence crosses the continent.

2. Africanized Honey Bees in the Americas

The reality of “killer bees” has been a bit overblown. I remember watching a bad TV movie back in the ’90s, in which an ever-growing swarm of the things took over a small Midwestern town, killing more D-list actors than Freddy or Jason.

But this social insect species has indeed caused some problems. The Brazilian scientist who bred together African and native American strains, looking to improve honey yields, seemed oblivious to the risks — even after they escaped into the wild.

The main issue with these insects isn’t that they’re a gigantic, exotic, highly venomous super-bees. They’re actually smaller than our native-born species and not any more venomous. But Africanized honeybees are far more aggressive — which has simultaneously meant that stings occur more frequently, and that they are displacing native varieties as they’ve slowly moved north through the United States. There could still be far-reaching ecological effects if this hybrid variety replaces the gene pool of native bees.

3. Asian Lady Beetles

Even those who hate all other kinds of insects frequently make an exception for the gentle ladybug. While beetles aren’t generally thought to be the cutest — I like fuzzy caterpillars and butterflies myself — ladybugs are stars.

About three years ago, I heard a strange story from my father, which I completely dismissed. He claimed that while on an outdoor adventure with friends, a few ladybugs landed on them. One of his buddies shouted, “Ow! Did that thing just bite me?” Feeling skeptical, the others laughed, until they too started getting bit. I didn’t believe the story for one second, and I promptly forgot about it.

But by the following summer, ladybugs were all over the news. Turns out a non-native variety — more frequently referred to as Asian lady beetles — has been taking over. And these invasive lady beetles didn’t get here by accident.

Because they actually eat other insects that might feed on crops, Asian lady beetles been intentionally introduced in many regions across North America as a type of biological pest control. The problem is, now we can’t get rid of them.

And while lady beetles benefit some kinds of plants, they’re bad for others. They also stand to harm many of the native insect species which make up their prey. It’s hard to say what the long-term effects will be, but the explosion in their population suggests they won’t be small.

Plant Bonus!

kudzu

Photo Credit: Tobin/Flickr

Kudzu is an Asian plant intentionally introduced to the United States centuries ago — though, like horses, it’s hard to remember there was a time before this plant was around, especially if you’re a Southerner. But if a kudzu is as familiar as biscuits and grits in Alabama, that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

Impossible to eradicate and slowly creeping across the country, kudzu is likely to move north as part of the changing climate — and it is strangling many native plant species. Invasive plants are as scary as invasive insects. Not only can they be enormously difficult to eradicate, but they’re so close to the base of the food chain that the species they displace have more ecological connections than we can possibly catalogue.

As with many invasive species situations, the worst is likely still yet to come. Good luck, Indiana.

Photo Credit: Amit Patel/Flickr

71 comments

Christine S

all due to human stupidity!

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Colin C
Colin C21 days ago

Come to Australia I think nearly everything Invasive has been introduced here. Camels, cane toads etc etc

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Daniel N
Daniel N25 days ago

thanks for this

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Naomi D
Naomi D25 days ago

Strange article, but thank you.

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Mark T
Mark T25 days ago

Ty.

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Terri S
Terri S26 days ago

Ditto former comments!! Humans are the worst invasive species on the planet!!

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Lesa D
Lesa D26 days ago

thank you Joel...

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Camilla V
Camilla Vaga26 days ago

thx

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Amanda M
Amanda M26 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M26 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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