Saturday, August 16, 2008

Five Invasive Species in California

I'm sitting at my computer enjoying the cacophony of our local flock of parrots thinking about invasive species. Here are five.

House Sparrow
There's special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
~ Hamlet
In the 19th Century literary societies in the United States got it into their pretty little heads to import all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare. The birds loved it. House sparrows are now feature performers at every outdoor restaurant in the state.

Argentine Ant
aka grease ant. Another 19th Century import. These are usually the ants that invade your home. The weird thing about these ants is that the trillions upon trillions of them stretching the length of California from San Diego to Ukiah compose a single, gigantic colony.

Introduced by ignorant loggers to replace clearcut redwood forests. While eucalyptus grow quickly it takes centuries for the trees to mature into usable lumber. So they are really just California's biggest weed. But they are more than just a weed, they encourage fire. Native redwoods and oaks are fire resistant while eucalyptus are highly combustible. Firefighters call them "gasoline trees." They are also water hogs that are aggravating the effect of California's prolonged drought.

Jumping Frogs
The jumping frogs celebrated in Mark Twain's short story were the California red-legged frog. They are endangered today in large part because of that story. Every year the Calaveras County Fair hosts a Jumping Frog Jubilee. People imported the far bigger eastern bullfrog to compete and then released those frogs into local waters. Where they would eat the smaller red-legged frogs. Local officials are fighting to protect bullfrogs from the little red-legged frog.

Red Crown Parrot
Fifty years ago the only parrots in California were in cages. Today there are a half-dozen species, thousands of birds, flocking throughout much of the state. Nobody really knows why. The most common tale is they are descended from escaped pets. Some believe increasingly subtropical climate in Southern California has sparked an increase in their natural range.

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