The invasive species keep coming, and there’s only so much we can do about it.
Ominous red dots pepper the war room maps, and the story they tell is ugly. Foreign enemies are advancing on Texas by the millions – by wing, by foot and free ride. They are coming to chomp, sting, slime and clog, and in their arrival’s wake lies the prospect of devastation and disease.
In the advance guard are zebra mussels, Russian immigrants that have vanquished Michigan lake species and clogged water intake pipes with their concreted shells; red-streaked leafhoppers capable of transmitting devastating disease to sugar cane; and giant east African snails, rat-size intruders with voracious appetites for more than 500 varieties of plants.
The mussels, which colonized 100 Michigan waterways in just 25 years, have hit the Trinity River in Denton County. The leafhoppers, natives of Australia, Asia and the Mediterranean, are in the Rio Grande Valley and marching across Texas to Louisiana sugar fields. The snails, known to charm unwary humans with their soulful eyes and mucilaginous good looks, have landed in Austin.
Enter Sam Houston State University’s Institute for the Study of Invasive Species, a consortium of biologists from four universities whose mission is to track, analyze and defeat the nastiest of nonnative plants, animals, insects and microbes that imperil the state’s well-being.
In the war between Texas and voracious invaders, the institute may be the best hope.
“The scope is giant,” says institute Director Jerry Cook. “The truth is, we don’t know how much damage is being done. Texas is a big state. We have the longest border with Mexico. We have major highways along which invasive species can travel. We have Chihuahuan desert to piney woods and everything in between.”
Also of concern are zebra mussels, which likely traveled to the Trinity River via contaminated boats, and the giant African snails, which, although illegal to possess, have been dispersed through the pet trade.
The snails, which can grow to 8 inches, arrived in Miami in 1966. Within seven years of being released in a garden, 18,000 of the creatures were munching their way across Florida.
“We like to say they’re ‘rat-sized,’ ” says Smith-Herron, emphasizing the intruder’s least-endearing quality. “The problem is that people think they have cute eyes.”
Yes, someone thought that a giant African snail would make a good pet, and the ne=xt thing you know they’re wreaking havoc on ecosystems across the country. Don’t be a part of the problem, OK? Hair Balls has more.