Saturday, June 19, 2010

Blue Team: Lia Fernandez

All invasive plants are not harmful to us, but there are some plants that are growing and reproducing, creating harm in our wildlife. There are about 103 invasive plants in Florida and they are growing by the day. Most people refer to invasive plants as exotic things that don’t belong here. This meaning doesn’t really inform you of the harm it’s causing to our environment. After talking to professionals who know and understand invasive plants completely to find out the full story behind invasive plants and what scientist are doing to fix the problem.

According to the Understanding Invasive Aquatic Weeds booklet, the three ways to control invasive plants and weeds include, mechanically, chemically, and biologically. Biological control seeks to reunite the invasive plant with its natural enemy to keep the plant from getting out of control. In the United States, invasive weeds damage and management costs exceed $30 billion each year. Invasive weeds cover about 100,000 million acres and each day, and the weeds cover an additional 4,500 acres of public lands and water. The damage invasive weeds is causing is spreading rapidly, as scientist do their best to find new ways to control the invasive plants. “We will never solve this problem in the environment, but we can find a solution to control invasive plants,” said invasive plants specialist Dr. Ken Langeland.

In the 1960s Hydrilla came upon scientist, and became problematic in the 70s. Hydrilla is a submersed plant that was brought to Florida in the 1950s from Asia to grow in aquariums. It can grow more than an inch each day and can fill water bodies that are as deep as 15 to 20 feet in only one year. When Hydrilla reaches the water surface, it forms tangled mats of plants. These tangled mats of plants are not allowing light or oxygen into the water, killing native plants, fish and other wildlife.

One of the mechanical machines used to pull up the weeds from Lake Alice, found on the campus of UF, is the steam engine founded in the 1890s. said Dr. Bill Haller “There are three types of invasive plants,” he said. “Floating, emergent, and submersed plants.” “The benefits of mechanical control include one being that you are able to use the water immediately after you spray to control the invasive plants.” “Mechanical control is not coast effective so we don’t use it a lot.”

“Invasive plants grow more rapidly in monsoon climates due to research.” confirms invasive plant specialist, Br. Bill Haller. We should be worried to know that not all invasive species to control the plants are inspected. “Inspectors check less than ten percent of the species,” said Dr. Steve Johnson, Doctor of invasive species. This is nerve-racking news to hear, knowing that invasive aquatic weeds are destroying fish and wildlife habitat, blocking navigation and flood control, and clogging drinking, irrigation and hydroelectric power water pipes. We can’t risk more harmful things into our environment; the inspectors should take more time and actually inspect every species being permitted into our state.

The UF Biological Control brochure informs us that the major advantage of classical biological control over chemical and mechanical methods is its permanence. Once a biological control agent is established in an area, it will remain and provide long-term suppression of the invasive plant. However, biological control will not completely eliminate a plant population from an area. Once the species has eaten and died down the invasive plant the species will die, due to lack of food (because they are host specific – they will not eat other plants).

There are many invasive plants in our world including Water Hyacinth, Alligator weed, Hydrilla, Giant Salvinia, and many more scientist are finding out about. Invasive plants is a growing problem that won’t end until more people become involved to find the solution we need to control all invasive plants. Get involved and support all the hard working scientist who are trying their hardest to give us the results we want and need to give us a beautiful environment we can live in and enjoy.

Blue Team: Taylor Lofton

For over ten years now I have lived in Weston, a newly developed city that was once the Everglades and is now surrounded by it. My backyard is covered in lush tropical plants and is full of exotic animals, ranging from alligators and iguanas to parakeets. Although extremely beautiful, most of the organisms and plants that live around me are invasive species.

Invasive species are not native and can cause harm to the environment and the economy. They are usually introduced to ecosystems by accident, for example the release of an unwanted pet. At first the species are small and don’t do too much damage, but unfortunately they reproduce and end up covering acres and severely affecting the areas environment.

These species must be controlled and hopefully diminished before it gets too out of hand, which unfortunately has already happened in some areas. As cruel as it sounds to kill animals and plants, researchers have found the most eco-friendly ways to do so.

In the case of invasive animals and insects, biologists have limited options. The most common approach is to bring in another species from the invasive species’ natural environment to control them. Another key to protecting our environment, said wildlife biologist Steve Johnson, is to stop bringing in these foreign species. Before purchasing a pet, make sure to do research. If you do end up with an animal that you cannot handle, make sure to turn it in to officials. Do not set it free!

Another major concern in saving native environments is the control of invasive plants. Invasive plants must be maintained. Dr. Mike Netherland, of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, said it is better to routinely manage small areas of plants in a lake, then a yearly herbicide spraying of the whole lake. Because of Florida’s subtropical environment, invasive plants grow much quicker here than in their natural environment. This means that the plants must constantly be managed. There are two ways to do so.

A common way to manage invasive plants in large areas is with herbicides. The problem with herbicides is that they have very specific rules and regulations. “If someone carelessly uses too much, it could severely affect the ecosystem,” said Netherland.

Another way to maintain the invasive plants is with mechanical harvesters. Mechanical harvesters are large machines that glide over the water, cutting around 5ft. deep and 5ft. around of plants as they do so. This method is much more eco-friendly, but unfortunately cannot cover as much area as herbicides do. “The use of the lake highly effects how it is handled,” said Dr. William T. Haller of the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.

All of these methods of maintaining invasive species are eco-friendly if balanced and done in the right manner. The sad thing is that all of this stress and hard work could be avoided if foreign species weren’t brought into our environment. We should work hard to keep out any new invasive species and continue to maintain the ones that currently occupy our ecosystems. With hard work and dedication, soon we should have a balanced and almost completely native environment.

Blue Team: Mackenzie Grant

I learned to walk on soft St. Augustine grass. I spoke some of my first words in awe of the bald eagle who lived across the street. I paddled my way across Lake Maitland and finally drove for the first time under the shady Florida palms. I’ve grown up around nature, the kind of nature that makes you stop in your tracks and gaze at its beauty. Since the age of three, I’ve lived in Winter Springs, a small suburb of Orlando. The 13.6 square mile town’s main attraction is Lake Jessup, a lake home to over 10,000 alligators. I’ve taken airboat rides on its murky water, fished off a near-by pier and perused down the St. Johns River searching for critters. Among my travels, I never stopped to wonder where the plants that so decoratively covered the surface came from and what their purpose was. To my surprise, the lakes I’d grown up around had slowly been taken over by invasive plants.

Florida’s subtropical climate and wetlands make it a target for invasive plants and animals to breed and thrive. Plants and animals are deemed “invasive” if they are non-native, self-sustaining and present a negative effect on human quality of life. Other components of the growing arrivals of unwanted species are Florida’s many import landings and the multimillion dollar pet industry. Tampa and Port Canaveral, where imports from around the world come, are perfect places for new plants and animals to transfer to Florida land.

“Once something gets here, it’s very hard to eradicate the animal or plant. We need to do a better job of preventing them from getting here in the first place,” said Dr. Steve Johnson, the assistant professor of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Florida.

The University of Florida is working hard to stop these invasive plants from spreading and eventually taking over the native plants, including the on-campus lake, Lake Alice. Alice, like so many others, is a breeding ground for invasive plants such as Water Hyacinth, Hydrilla and Water Lettuce.

According to Dr. Bill Haller, the professor and acting director at UF/FAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, the reason so many invasive plants reside in Florida is due to the shallow waters, we’ve all enjoyed as children. Plants need water, nutrients and sunlight to grow. The shallower the water, the more sunlight the plants receive therefore the more likely they are to develop. Another factor contributing to the expansion of invasive plants is that while native plants need 3 percent of light to grow, invasive plants only require 1 percent.

Over time, fellow-nature lovers will begin to disrupt the growth of these invasive plants near the shores of lakes and slowly the invasive plant’s presence will disappear.

“What a lake is used for, will dictate how it’s managed,” said Brett Bultemeier, the Graduate Research Assistant at UF.

Floridians are unaware of this problem and the results of many of our actions. We’ve grown up watching the sun set over our favorite lakes and we’ve explored the canopied woods around our houses but as a state, we’re uniformed on this crucial issue. We can use mechanical methods, or machinery to cut the plants from the lakes’ bottoms, herbicides to kill the plant, or biological control, the use of animals as a tool for killing invasive creatures.

“We’re always going to be fighting an uphill battle, “said Bultemeier.

The waging war with invasive plants is chronic yet important to continue. The places we’ve grown up are crawling with interesting wildlife, but we need to ensure the safety of these native creatures from invasive species, waiting to become a part of our childhood stories.

Blue Team: Isabella Ruggeri

With 4,000 species of plants occupying Florida, has it ever been made known to the citizens of the Sunshine State that more than 25 percent of species are non-native or exotic plants? This means that more than 1,000 plants are invasive to Florida. The word “invasive” is not to be taken lightly. With every addition of an invasive species to the environment, there is a guaranteed harmful effect that will occur. According to Executive Order 13112, an invasive species is “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” This can be as simple as letting a pet turtle loose in your backyard, or as complex as collecting a large amount of a type of plant and unleashing it into a foreign environment. The bottom line is that invasive plant species are extremely dangerous to the environment and if no action is taken soon to address this problem and to begin to control the species from spreading uncontrollably, the natural environment will eventually be taken over and sadly, destroyed.

Invasive plants are in Florida and many of these species were imported from other countries. The importers thought the plants would adapt to the new habitat quickly, without knowing the potential consequences of this decision. These plants would be planted or sold and released into the environment to spread and contaminate the land. According to “Teaching Points”, once the plants are accustomed to their new habitat they will begin to spread in a variety of ways. The seeds can be spread by wind, water, and animals that come into contact with the plant, “vegetative propagules” can fall off of the plant and form a new plant in a different place, and the plant can be broken up by a boat propeller and regrow separately.

Around the time that the citizens of Florida began to realize the harmful effects of invasive plant species, it was also realized that the rapid progression of the plants spreading and growth was going to make eliminating them a very difficult procedure. One way to hopefully control the invading species is the administering of herbicides, or chemicals, to infected places. There are 12 registered aquatic herbicides that can be used in the state of Florida. Dr. Michael D. Netherland, Courtesy Associate Professor of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center explained, to be able to use these herbicides, a label is required that must state where the herbicide should be used, how much of the substance should be used, the minimum amount that can be applied to see an effect, and if there are any restrictions for using the herbicides (such as the herbicide cannot be used in a facility where grass carp are located). In order for the herbicide to be effective, reading the label is absolutely necessary. Dr. Netherland also says, “Without reading this label, people can mess up. This irresponsibility can be led to an overspray of the area or not even enough of a spray to be effective.” Another solution to invasive species is biological control, which by Dr. James P. Cuda’s definition, Associate Professor Biological Weed Control of the UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department is, “the use of insects, fish, diseases and other agents to combat unwanted exotic weeds.” By knowing for sure that certain insects, fish, and diseases will eliminate problem weeds and plants, this helps fight the growth and spreading of invasive plants.

It is necessary that the citizens know the details and factors of invasive plant species, but without proper education and research nobody really knows exactly what they can do to help. Paying attention to the environment and not putting any foreign plant or animal into any lakes, canals or ponds is a start. By doing this, and by being open to listening to new solutions to control and eradicate the amount of invasive plants, we, the citizens of Florida can make our home a better place to live in.

Blue Team: Caycee Gray

Invasive species are plants or animal species that are not native to where they are growing and cause some form of harm to the environment, or surroundings. Invasive species are very difficult to get ride of once use to the environment they are now use to living in. Some of the major reasons invasive species came to Florida are climate, the look of the species, and the fact that people bring the species over and get tired of them so they illegally release the species of invasive plant, or animals.

Most of the time biological control is a successful method. This is the type of control where you bring one animal to control an invasive species of animals. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Steve Johnson, 45, a biological control expert. According to him “Lake Alice is a great educational” stand point. Lake Alice is the lake where we learned about nature. We also took a quick airboat tour around part of the lake. Biological control experts take time to study the species of noninvasive animals to bring over to help control or destroy the invasive species. Noninvasive species help to get ride of the harmful plants and animals, while maintaining the native plants and animals.

Mechanical harvesting is the use of machinery to cut out invasive species out of the water to help stop the spread of the invasive aquatic plants. It is another way to control the problem we currently and always will have with invasive aquatic plants. I talked to Dr. Bill Haller, 56, about the machinery we saw on Lake Alice. Dr. Haller has been in this line of work for 30 years. He informed us that the machine being used on the lake we visited cost $45.000. When the machine becomes full of the invasive species it’s collecting it comes to shore and dumps it on a conveyer. The conveyer cost around $20.000 to $25.000. From the conveyer the invasive plants go into a dump truck, witch costs a lot of money. From there the plants go to a landfill, or an agricultural facility to be disposed or taken care of. People ask the question, “Why can’t we use invasive plants like we do our native plants?” In his reply Dr. Haller informs us that, “You can’t use the invasive plants because unlike native plants they are made up of 90 to 95 percent water.” Mechanical harvesters are not selective. They also pick up fish small alligators, snakes, and other small creatures. While harvesting if you see a manatee you must stop mechanical harvesting, and look to see if the animal is harmed. He also informed us that, “The faster you move with a mechanical harvester you pick up more creatures; however, the deeper you go the more invasive plants you will pick up.” This is why at this time experts are working on a harvester that goes deeper than the ones we have today.

I talked to Dr. Jim Cuda,59, at the lake. According to him, “Water lettuce is a public health threat.” It is such a health risk because it is home to one of the most aggressive mosquitoes . A group scientist from Mexico came over for an invasive species problem they were having that the mosquitoes would help with. Dr. Cuda and the scientist from Mexico collected 2,000 mosquitoes in three days.

Dr. Colette Jacono,49, told us that “manatees love to eat hydrilla.” This fact causes great conflict between people and scientist because the hydrilla is a invasive plant. Hydrilla takes over the water covering the natural resources needed by native plants.This kills native plants in the area, therefore we must kill them to protect the native species. Aroma is another invasive plant. It is found in the Keys, and Clay Canty. It has thorns that when you get pricked by them it hurts and you’ll need to find a doctor to get checked out.

Dr. Mike Netherland,47, talked to us about chemical control. Did you know that there are only 12 registered chemicals allowed to be used on invasive plants in water? If you use one of these chemicals make sure you read the restrictions and don’t use too much or too little. There are limits to the use of water after being sprayed to become potable. Potable means to be used for swimming, drinking, and thing of that sort. Herbicide if used to much can kill more than needed or wanted, however to little wont do very much. The Florida Fish and Wildlife have a budget of $30millionto spend on helping to get ride of the invasive species. The invasive species may start off to seem like a small problem, but can and will quickly turn into a big one!

Blue Team: Erica Hernandez

Every single night at around 9 p.m. I walk into my back yard with a small ceramic container filled with coffee grinds, tree trimmings, vegetable peels and other natural waste items in hand. I empty the container into a larger black trash can with holes on the bottom, then I turn on my hoes and let some water run into the waste filled trash can, I then proceed to stir the mixture with a large branch : This is how I make organic mulch using my home made composter. This may seem like a trivial act, without much importance in the grand scheme of things, but if every Floridian used composters for their lawns instead of buying fertilizer not only would they save a great deal of money, our lakes and waterways would be significantly less polluted.

“Composting is not talked about enough!” Botanist Collette Jacono said during a 20 minute session at the University of Florida’s annual summer journalism visitation program. “The thing to keep in mind is that everything you pick up off the floor of your plot is something that your land produced, why would you deprive your land of the nutrients it produced?” she continued.

Our environment is constantly being put at risk, from the fertilizers we use, to the exotic pets we so willingly adopt. It’s crucial to take a step back and see the detrimental effects that our everyday actions are having on our lakes, rivers and aquatic areas in general.

Invasive animal and plants are widespread across Florida, and what invasive means is exotic to the area plants or animals that cause undesirable effects such on the areas environmental and economy. There are three routes of proposed solutions to the invasive animal and plant population: Herbicide, mechanical and biological.

Mechanically removing invasive plants is something that is done practically every day at Lake Alice, a lake on the University of Florida campus, and although it seems like a valid option for controlling the plants it has its downfalls.

“Mechanical harvesting is not cost effective, it’s hard to keep up with the fast paced growth of the plants and because the machines aren’t selective so animals do get hurt in the process,” Bill Haller, said.

Biologically removal of invasive plants and animals also does not have 100 percent desirable effects. Biologically removal is taking a non native animal and placing it in an environment where there are invasive plants or animals. There are specific insects for each specific species of plant and you can actually go down to your local DDIS (distance diagnostic information system) with an invasive plant or weed from your lawn and they will test it and match it with an insect which they will provide you with for practically no cost at all. This is a more natural alternative to using pesticides which are detrimental to our water systems.

Having witnessed the effects of invasive plants first hand on Lake Alice, I can say that the invasive plant and animal crisis needs to receive more attention and fast. Though there are various options for managing the invasive species not one seemed totally beneficial to the environment; Herbicides can hurt the animals, machines are non-selective so while they cut out weeds like hydrilla it will still cut out animals in the process and biologically trying to reduce invasive species introduces a whole new native species to the area and that just seems counterproductive, even if the new species isn’t “harmful.”

After learning all about the damage that invasive species can have on our limited aquatic areas, I urge all Floridians take action, start making our own mulch, learn about volunteering opportunities in these infested lake and river areas, don’t let this problem get any worse before you decide to get involved.

Blue Team: Christina Mattis

"We should be humble; we may never fully understand the invasion process, particularly for each of the hundreds of potentially invasive species in each of our many ecosystems. One truth is clear: as time passes, many species will spread to new areas or increase in density if controlling actions are delayed."

-Faith Thompson Campbell

My team of reporters and I recently visited Lake Alice, located in the University of Florida and learned more about this fantasying place. “Lake Alice is not a natural system, it’s more like a water retention pond, it would be considered a great place to grow weeds” Bill Haller, commented again. Going into further depth about Lake Alice, Hydrilla tended to be the key element in everyone’s discussion. Hydrilla is really considered to be the cancer disease for the lakes. Well Dr. Mike Netherland, 42, a US Army engineer for the research and development center, agrees. “That analogy is often used because it destroys the natural habitat and biological balance, spreads very quickly and doesn’t belong in Florida period”. I went around Lake Alice surveying numerous people, and asked: “if you could describe Invasive Species in three words, what would it be?

Devin Donohue, an undergraduate senior student majoring in microbiology, here at the University of Florida, responded: “HARMFUL, UNWANTED, and ACCIDENTAL”

Jeremy Slade, 31 a biological science major student put his own little twist in: “NUISANCE, PROBLEMATIC, UNDESIRABLE”

And while on the other hand, Dr. Ken Langleland, 63 paraphrase his own three words in his own little definition: “DESTRUCTIVE TO WILDLIFE”

Yes, indeed, invasive species are entering our world very quickly like a hawk flying down on its prey. Invasive Species are “non native” plants or animals that adversely affect the habitats and bioregions. They damage and invade in these areas: economically, environmentally, and/or ecologically.

Invasive Species should be a concern and be put on the president’s agenda. Why ? “Because it outcompetes native plants”, said Bill Haller, 56 a professor and acting director for the center of aquatic and invasive exotic plants. Among these invasive species are the invasive plants, which seem to rather be key interest for my story. According to the FLEPPC, Florida Exotic Pest Plant Control, approximately 1.9 million acres of Florida’s remaining natural areas have been invaded by exotic plant species and more than $240 MILLION has been spent in Florida to control invasive, exotic plant species since 1980.

One example is the Malaleuca that’s found in the Melaleuca Quinquenervia, that’s invading the South and Central Florida area rapidly. With Invasive exotic plants invading our world, it can cause:

Loss of habitat and food sources for native insects, birds, and other wildlife.

Changes to natural ecological processes such as plant community succession.

And with that, all I know is, if we don’t put a stop to it or find a better or somewhat perfect solution, our world is definitely in for a big surprise, remember Planet of the Apes? Well that will have nothing on Planet of Invasive Species.

Blue Team: Reagan Fricke

Driving down the highway I-4 in my beautiful home town of Winter Springs I have noticed how many plants there truly are covering the towering tree tops. Little did I know, certain types of climbing ferns are invasive plants causing harm to the environment.

Most people are not aware that invasive plants are harming our natural wildlife and limiting many creatures ability to live. Researchers, such as the University of Florida’s assistant professor of wildlife and ecology Dr. Steve Johnson, 45, are trying to find ways to exterminate these pesky species.

“Once something gets here it’s very hard to eradicate the animal or plant,” he said. Johnson also mentioned that people would buy pets when they are small but let them loose into Florida’s natural habitats once they grow.

Due to the hot and humid climate of Florida, many species such as the Cuban tree frogs and the cane toad prefer living in these conditions. These creatures came from other countries and are in fact invasive and cause many problems to today’s ecosystems. Specifically the Cuban tree frogs cause harm to the environment as well as people because of their noxious skin secretions. When people come in contact with these tree frogs a toxin is released onto the handler’s hand. This is released through the skin secretions. This particular tree frog is four times larger than the ones back in Winter Springs. The Cuban tree frog is just one of the many invasive animals that has been released into Florida’s natural habitat.

There are many ways that researchers are attempting to control these foreign species. Dr. Jim Cuda, 59, assistant professor of entomolgy and nematology believes “the use of live natural enemies primarily insects, mites, and in some cases fish can be used as a tool.” These unwanted invasive species came here without the biotic factors that keep them in check, which is why they are taking over certain habitats. A plant such as melaleuca is an invasive woody plant that originated from Australia, New Guinea, and the Soloman Islands but came to Florida in the late 19th century. This plant currently has infected more than 200,000 of wetland ecosystems in this region.

On the hot summer nights spent by the lake, the mosquitoes are uncontrollable. This is another major problem in Florida: the mosquito population. Biological control is being used to manage the number of these insects. Researchers are trying to find the origin of the mosquitoes and exterminate them before they make it to the adult stage. If the researchers don’t catch the place that the mosquitoes are deriving from, other methods will be used to destroy them such as trucks that spray a substance to kill these pesky flies.

Many researchers believe that the only true way to make a significant difference in the invasive species is to inform the public about what is going on. Once the public understands the real problem at hand and begins an act to fix this, a necessary change will come. Hopefully one day I will be able to drive down highway I-4 again without climbing fern covering the trees.

Blue Team: Allie Davison

As a native Floridian, invasive humans are those who consider 75 degrees sweat worth. As a UF fan, I consider invasive items those of the colors garnet and gold. As an environmental novice, I consider learning about invasive nature factors intriguing.

Invasive is a term used to define unwanted items and humans, or in this case plants and animals. Dr. Steve Johnson, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at UF, describes at the Summer Journalism Visitation Program the exotic animals as “negatively impacting the way of life.” Those are bold words coming from an expert himself. Those are shocking words for those who aren’t as familiar with the environmental lowdown, such as myself.

‘The ideal situation is public awareness. One of the tools is having the public work with you,” said Dr. Ken Langeland, Agronomy professor at UF. The first step in public cooperation is having the government on your side. Langeland and his colleagues all argue that state officials and environmental groups are working as one to help stop invasive plants and animals. There are less than one percent of inspectors checking cargoes to see if there are any harmful species of plants or animals. Wouldn’t you think they would crackdown and hire more people in need of a job, instead of waving the issue off and blaming the situation on not having enough workers?

I asked Dr. Jeffrey Hutchinson, Doctoral Candidate, if an unlimited amount of money was give to help solve this issue, would the invasive discussion be over. He simple stated, “it will be an ongoing problem.” From my experience, telling people a problem will never be solved seems to push them running into another direction. Yet, Hutchinson and his colleagues believe as though telling the public that their wallets isn’t what they are after, but honestly educating them on the truth will increase support.

Many people seem to point the finger at the invasive animals and plants the second the issue is brought up. Be sure to check to see if your fingers are clean before blaming someone else for the dirty deeds being done. These exotic factors where brought into our sub-tropical habitat by humans. The public buy animals and release them into the wild. The invasive wildlife get tangles up with exports and our brought over by ships that are carrying goods for our benefit. Humans are one cause for the havoc and destruction being done to the environment and they are the ones who need to take action and “help fight the uphill battle,” as Dr. Colette Jacono, Botanist said. We can’t expect native plants and animals to come out in water boots holding shovels and working with machinery to help minimize the problem.

The situation of invasive species will never be solved, but blame isn’t a helpful course of action either. Living in the beautiful sunshine state is called home to all kinds of living things; some just aren’t as welcome as other.

Do as any gator fan would with a Seminole fan on the UF campus, kick them in the butt and stop them in their tracks.

Blue Team: Sarah Senfeld

“Nature is sloppy,” so said former environmental columnist, Bill Maxwell chiefly emphasizes this discrepancy when describing the cookie-cutter landscapes most Florida citizens see daily. I took notice of this distinct change from the kept lawns and parks in suburbia when I visited Lake Alice on University of Florida’s campus.

The swampy plant life, mossy trees, and massive multicolored dragonflies wholly ignore any accommodation to human comfort, whizzing two inches from your face, growth covering any form of a pathway.

In fact, the only distinct pathway is a man-made bridge which is still housed by dragonflies and curious insects making homes in the holes of the wood. Seeing all this plant and animal life live without restraint is such a shock to all the perfectly trimmed and weeded gardens. But while this habitat can live under such autonomy, there are consequences.

Lake Alice has been dealing with invasive aquatic plant life since the 19th century. In order to control aquatic species such as water hyacinth, hydrilla and alligator weed, many alternatives have been proposed and dealt with.

“[A healthy environment] is one where everything is in balance” said Dr. James P. Cuda, a Professor of biological weed control, at the University of Florida’s Summer Journalism Visitation Program. “When you don’t [have a balance] you get explosive growth, invasive weeds, and you’re no longer in balance.”

When biological control, or fighting the invasive species with an animal or insect from its native land, is introduced, the Aquatic Management director at UF, James Wilmoth, makes sure it is not a counterproductive strategy to what they are already fighting. For instance, to fight hydrilla, a plant that grows submersed underwater forming thick mats which slows the water flow and alters oxygen levels, Management for Lake Alice introduced Chinese grass carp that they make sterile so as not to reproduce once they eliminate the hydrilla.

Another method Dr. Michael D. Netherland advocates is herbicide control. “Out of all the herbicides used in the United States in agriculture, forestry, rights of way, railroads, there are literally hundreds of products registered for [them],” he said. “In aquatics there are twelve.”

The use of herbicides is tested for the concentration of toxicity to make sure they do not harm the already existing native plant life and the organisms that drink it.

Talking to such educated experts on invasive species really widened my spectrum of awareness. I realized that just being conscious about global warming and recycling will not cut it. There are so many environmental issues that do not get publicized half as much as the newest trend in environmental fads. Unbeknownst, people will pick flowers out of the ground carry it a few blocks back to their home and plant it in their backyard. This might inadvertently create a whole new population of this invasive plant in your neighborhood. Provision also applies to exotic animals such as the Cuban tree frog and green iguanas being used as pets.

Learning about this entirely new field of precautions will undeniably affect my judgment and will keep me active in the global issue of invasive species, as well as my concern for the determined Lake Alice.

Blue Team: Justin Soto

Invasive species are hidden species that without scientific knowledge one may not understand fully. They are better known as the species that affect our environment in a negative way which in turn humans can be affected. Scientists work together to save places such as Lake Alice from these harmful species. I was able to get a firsthand account of the damage that has been done to Lake Alice and the education needed to inform Gainesville.

A prime contributor to the awareness that I obtained was from Steve Johnson who is an Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology here at the University of Florida. “These species harm ecology and the economy” said Johnson. Some people who have animals that are reeking havoc in their backyards come to places such as Lake Alice and leave the unwanted animals. If people continue to do that they will be aiding the bad problems in the lake. Since Florida has many ports of entry cities such as Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami, these invasive plants and animals are coming into this state with no questions being asked. A solution to the problem in which animals are being put into lakes, can be solved by people bringing their unwanted pets to pet amnesty day events. Steven Johnson said “You can bring a tiger or even a gorilla and they will take it off of your hands.” the public must be informed about this matter.

Dr. Jim Cuda an associate professor of biological weed control uses nonnative animals to help get rid of nonnative plants, which works because they match both being exotic. He focuses mostly on screening and evaluating insect natural enemies for classical biological control of invasive weeds. Dr. Cuda said that “Without ecological balance things are out of whack.” He makes a point in saying that he just collects the data and he isn’t the one who chooses the animals that he researches.

Mechanical harvesting and the study of plants also aid the prevention of invasive species. Dr. Bill Haller works to manage aquatic weeds in a different way, through machines in the water. A machine on Lake Alice digs “five feet wide and five feet deep, going through two acres a day” said Haller. After the plants are taken out, they are traditionally taken to landfills or farms. He hopes to get a stronger machine that will increase the longevity of the harvesting and it will enable them to cut nine feet deep. While using the machines he says that “If you see a scuba diver keep going, but if it’s a manatee stop.” Once you see a manatee in the water where you are cutting, you are not allowed to cut in that area ever again.

Botanist Dr. Colette Jacono includes that composting is fantastic for soil growth. Being selective about the plants that you put in your garden can aid in the saving of our environment. “Native species are better in home environments” she said. She also says that “palmettos and wildflowers help animals because of their nectar.” So selection is key, don’t just buy the prettiest plants.

Herbicides are sprayed over the targets in the lake to help get rid of the invasive species that are present. But scientists have to be careful when choosing a herbicide because only twelve aquatic herbicides are legal. “The label tells you everything you need to know about the herbicide” says Dr. Mike Netherland an engineer and manager of studying submerse invasive plants.

What I learned today helped me focus on my role in the ecosystem and what I can do to help my local area and this planet. The City of Gainesville and the University of Florida community should play a role as well. The facts I presented are too important to ignore.

Blue Team: Daniella Garcia

Anyone living in Florida has lived around Invasive plants, are plants that are nonnative species growing where they are not wanted. The most common invasive plant would be the weeds, which may grow all over gardens and in lawn area. These invasive plants are found in many of our Florida lakes since the 1950.

Invasive plants may be produced by imports of different plants from other countries, produced by fertilizing lawns, and animals carrying plant that is affecting our lakes. However there are solutions in trying to clean up the invasive plants. There are three ways to handle invasive plants, mechanically, biologically and chemically.

“Nonnative animals (fish and insects) are used to control invasive plants,” Dr. Jim Cuda, Associate Professor Biological Weed Control said at his station at the Summer Jouralism Vistitation Program.

Submerses plants are controlled mechanically by a machine that can cut five feet deep and five feet wide. This helps submerses plants from growing rapidly in Lake Alice by the University of Florida.

“ Shallow lakes in Florida would have more of the invasive plants since it needs so much sun light to grow and are found in monsoon climate,” Dr. Bill Haller, Professor and Acting Director said at UF.

Submerses plants are also controlled by the Chinese Grass Carp which eats the invasive plant that are in the lakes around Florida. However, the Chinese Grass Carp also eats the native plants that are are in the lakes as well.

There are also invasive animals that may come from all over the world and have damaged some of the environment and have become nuisance to people in their home environment. An example of an invasive animal would be the Cuban Tree frog. This animal can be found all over Florida and has come to be an annoyance to people.

“You need to know for sure if the animal will bring harm to the environment,” Dr. Steve Johnson, Assistant Professor of wildlife Ecology said at UF. “The weather does have an impact on the animals by lowering their living rate in the cold however it does not get rid of the animals completely.” He said

Some people may wonder where these animals may come from or how they do get here. Well all of these animals can be imported into the country or are brought from other countries to help our problems with invasive plants. The animal import is a huge industry that has become global and gotten huge over the last 10 to 15 years.

However, the industry is getting paid by taxpayer’s money to find ways to help our lakes become more environmental friendlier and healthier to the environment around us. This is a huge cause that has been going on for over 60 years now.

The invasive plants and animal may never go away all together; however, if the state or even country could help by being more aware of the environment and to take care of what really is happening to the environment around us to get better.

Blue Team: Tori Michael

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a person who enjoys spending time outdoors. My home is surrounded by trees, animals and insects. As much as I try to avoid anything that can bite, crawl, slime or spread dirt – it’s inevitable. If I open a curtain in my room, there is usually a spider web with its creator waiting to greet me and there has been more than one lizard chase me around the kitchen.

I don’t typically admire nature or involve myself with “go green” campaigns. However, being at the Summer Journalism Visitation Program made me realize that the issue of invasive species is one that everyone needs to know more about. After spending the two hours going to different stations where biologists spoke on the issue of invasive species, it was brought to my attention that day after day, invasive exotic plants grow out of control.

“[People] come up with creative ways to control [the plants],” Dr. James P. Cuda, Associate Professor Biological Weed Control said at one of the stations.

As Cuda explained, there have been animals tested to control plants that were sent in to control plants and quickly got out of control. The use of insects to control invasive plants is the best way to ensure that they are being controlled without harming the surrounding environment.

For example, the hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) is an invasive plant that people have tried to control by using the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella). The grass carp was originated in China and does an exceptional job at controlling the hydrilla. In fact, 2-25 fish can singlehandedly control an acre of hydrilla.

The downside is that the fish will also eat every other plant around and there is no way to ensure that it eats one specific plant. The only way that one is able to own a grass carp is to have the fish sterilized and obtain a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Cuda also spoke about an immersed aquatic plant, the alligator weed (Altermanthera philoxeroides), that was controlled by the flea beetle (Agasicles hygrophila). The beetle was brought to Florida from Argentina in 1964, to control the plant which mad esure that the plant did not become a problem. Another plant, water lettuce, one with no absolute known origin, spreads rapidly and is only controlled by the water lettuce weevil.

Another plant, the water hyacinth (Eichhomia crassipes) is controlled by three different insects (two of which are Neochetina weevils and one moth, the Niphograpta albiguttalis). These insects are not as powerful as the flea beetle. While they are able to deteriorate the size and health as well as reduce flower and seed protection of the water hyacinth, they do not fully put a halt to the growth.

What does all of this mean to someone who has no interest in saving the environment?

According to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, exotic invasive plants can reduce biodiversity, food sources and habitats for native insects, birds and other wildlife can disappear, the frequency and intensity of natural fires can be altered and the natural ecological processes may change.

To help control the rapidly-growing invasive plants, people need to become educated and educate others about the issue and how to prevent it.

If there is an inclination that a plant may be one of that is endangering the environment, try to identify it or make a phone call to have someone else deal with the problem for no cost.

“[You] have to identify the problem before you can prevent it,” Cuda said.

If everyone does his or her part to prevent the growth of invasive exotic plants, the environment will being saved, and I will be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I won’t have any excess plants growing outside of my bedroom window.

Blue Team SJVP Group

The Blue Team was a group of young journalists who attended the Summer Journalism Visitation Program June 19. Their assignment was to talk to several professionals about invasive species and later craft opinion pieces. The group was led by Bill Maxwell, Antonia Robinson and Anne-Marie Kabia.

Iguanas can become trouble as they grow

By Cole Timmer

Steve Johnson, assistant of wildlife ecology, has a warning for people who want to buy a pet iguana.

“They start off small and cute, then they grow to be a few feet long, and people dump them after they have gotten to be too big,” he said. His job is to deal with exotic animals, mostly in the pet industry. And the common type of animal he deals with is invasive animals.

All different types of invasive animals were introduced to America through the pet industry, including the iguana. An invasive animal is an animal that is not native to the area and has a negative effect.

After buying an iguana you’ll notice them starting to get bigger. Eventually you’ll want to throw them out in the forest. This is a bad thing because it is illegal and harmful to the environment. Dumping them out can result in a fine or prison time.

But there are some people that decide to keep iguanas once they grow into the adult size. They will turn vicious and can attack other pets and sometimes even you. They can bite, scratch, and even use their tail as a whip.

He also said, “You’re paying taxes that go into managing invasive iguanas.” What he’s trying to say is, if you don’t dump them out you won’t have to pay for them to be managed.

And when iguanas are released they can produce many babies that will eat native plants and animals causing them to die out. They also defecate everywhere which can cause plants to die. This is where the classification of an invasive species takes place.

Even if you do throw it out in the forest the weather can kill it. This past winter we had record cold temperatures which caused them to die and fall from trees. This is because of a fatal illness which can cause other animals to die.

“Some dogs had found them and ate the iguanas which caused them to contract the illness, this led to them to die or be very sick,” he stated.

There are legal ways to get rid of iguanas that have gotten too big. You can return it to the pet store where you purchased it. Finding it a new home is another useful option, these can be zoos, aquariums or a person’s house. Or the most common for pet iguanas, euthanasia. It is most common because most iguanas are difficult to handle.

After talking about euthanasia Steve said, “It has to be done sometime, and they don’t live much longer in their adult life.”

Pets grow to be large invasive issue

By Victoria Rosado

Picture swimming in a pool on a blazing hot day and having a 20 pound aggressive iguana running across the lawn and diving into the pool like it was Michael Phelps.

This is what occurred to some friends of Dr. Steve Johnson, Assistant Professor of Wildfire Ecology.

“A tourist would probably try to catch it, but to other people it would be a nuisance,” said Johnson

This situation is not uncommon. Many pet owners are unaware of the future size and strength of these reptiles and have to face the realization that the cute little reptile they purchased from a pet store will grow into a large, invasive animal.

When they do eventually reach their full size, some owners choose to release them into the wild allowing these animals to cause serious harm to the environment and eventually, the economy.

The exotic pet craze is not the only way invasive animals are being released into the wild. Some amphibians, such as the Cuban Tree Frog, are hitchhiking their way to the states through cargo shipments. These frogs invade people’s homes through pipes and also invade power equipment.

“People aren’t happy when they go in the bathroom and find a frog in the toilet,” joked Johnson.

These frogs are notorious for cannibalism and impact the native ecosystems by eating native frogs and pose a threat to the biodiversity of the areas by causing native tree frog populations to decline

Though invasive animals are hard to get rid of, many things can be done to help take a step in the right direction.

Instead of releasing an animal into the wild returning it to the pet store or finding a new home for it could be a possible solution.

Not only does that helps the environment but saves the owner from breaking wildfire laws and receiving unwanted fines.

The total of invasive animals is currently at 50 but by educating the public about these animals the number could decrease drastically. Knowing what to do can help keep them safe as well as our environment.

Tiny insect fixing big plant problem

By Michele Dobin

A microscopic bug is being used to solve a massive problem.

Lake Alice contained an influx of Alligator Weed. The Alligator Weed Flea Beetle, a predator to the Alligator Weed, has controlled the growth.

Many plants and animals are being introduced into the environment that are harmful to native species in the area. Yet, as shown through Lake Alice, there are methods to manage those species and to protect the natural environment.

“The question became ‘how do you manage something that is out of control?’” courtesy associate professor Mike Netherland stated.

There are three main methods of controlling the invasive species. There is the chemical method, the biological method, and the mechanical method. But what is the best method for controlling the invasive species?

The answer to this question is not as clear cut as one may think. All three methods involve killing the invasive species, but the cost to the rest of the environment must also be taken into consideration.

A disadvantage of the chemical method is that the certified applicators that are dumping artificial chemicals into the environment. As an expert in the area, Netherland says the key to controlling invasive species with herbicides is to read product labels carefully. “Specimen labels say ‘you can use this here’.” He explained. Improper use of the twelve registered chemical agents can result in fines and jail time, as well as a dead ecosystem.

But the chemical method also has major drawbacks. In addition to the fact that misuse may cause the death of an ecosystem, the cost of the chemicals is exorbitant. Many plants require applications before they die and each application uses a lot of chemical. Glyphosate, a chemical used to kill Alligator Weed, costs about $110.00 for a 1.67 gallon container. Also, many chemicals may not be used in potable water due to the fact that they make the water no longer drinkable.

What about other methods? Biological control has been used widely across the world in order to contain invasive species by introducing natural predators. In Lake Alice’s case, the Alligator Weed Flea Beetle controlled the population of the Alligator Weed successfully with no side effect.

But many other examples prove that the lack of research can lead to detrimental loss of habitat for some species. According to Steve Johnson, an assistant professor of Ecology at the University of Florida, Cane Toads were brought in to the United States in order to control the population of sugar cane beetles.

But that is not all they did. The toads ate everything else as well, and started to avoid the sugar cane beetles for a tastier snack elsewhere. Johnson says that this has happened with other species as well, where a species was brought in to control an invasive species, but not enough research was done on the control species, which allowed for it to stray from the task it was imported to do.

Even the mechanical control method, which is seemingly effective due to the physical removal of the invasive species from a location has its drawbacks. Each mechanical harvester, used to remove plants from lakes, costs about $45,000 and many other steps are used in the process, each being extremely expensive. Also, many plants just grow back, causing many people to view the mechanical control method as useless because it needs to be repeated constantly.

“If you cut hydrilla off at sixty inches, it can be back in thirty days,” Bill Hailer, acting director of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, said.

In the end, every method has something good and something bad about it. The benefits of each method are apparent, but so are the drawbacks, making no one method be ‘the best’ method.

“Prevention is the best method,” Johnson said, “Don’t let [the invasive species] here in the first place.”

Cold spell decreased invasive numbers

By Ashley Spooner

Although some Floridians complained about the unusually cold temperatures Florida experienced last winter, these lower degrees also had a major benefit to the state as a whole. It began to decrease the population of invasive species.

“Due to the extended cold period in Florida this past winter, nearly 80 percent of the green iguanas and pythons found in the Everglades were discovered dead,” said Steve Johnson, assistant professor of wildlife geology.

South Florida is inhabited by nearly 50 different types of invasive vertebrate species alone, some coming from South America and Cuba. But due to the unexpected climate drop, many invasive species have been terminated.

Some invasive species are reptiles, which means that they are exothermic or more commonly called, cold-blooded. Originating in South America, they are well adapted to the warmer weather, but not the strange cold front that came through Florida last winter. This caused many invasive reptiles to die.

This comes at a direct benefit for Florida, its plants and animals, and its habitat.

“An invasive species is a species that is not native to the area… and is causing environmental harm to natives... most can be found in South Florida,” said Johnson. Many local species have been killed off due to the fact that these invasive species have come over with no natural predators against them.

As good as this may sound for Florida, only time will tell if the invasive species will stay away for long. Although the cold weather may have stopped the spread of the species for now, it may only be temporary. It is predicted that eventually most of the invasive species will reproduce and repopulate.

The way invasive species are brought over to Florida is primarily through the pet-trade industry. Many people will purchase small iguanas, snakes, tortoises, or frogs from local pet shops unaware of the potential size or care that these animals will eventually need.

Once a new owner discovers the true effort they will have to put in to owning this pet, many people become overwhelmed and seeks a nice spot to leave it, thinking that it is in the owner and animal’s best interest.

But, these invasive species will grow up and push out local species. Dumping the animal is very discouraged, and against state laws and ethics.

“Become knowledgeable about what animals to buy, and which ones to avoid,” said Johnson.

No matter which type of invasive species is released into the environment, “They all cause problems in different ways,” said Johnson.

The three main ways of controlling invasive species in Florida is through manual, physical, and biological control. But thanks to the cold fronts that came through last winter, Florida will not need to worry about some invasive species coming back for a little while longer.

But once again, as Johnson said, “Only time will tell,”.

Harvester provides invasive solution

By Katherine Fontanez

Looking at the image of what seemed to be in the middle of a tractor and boat big and wide with more metal than a junk yard. It seemed to move quite like a duck when it swims in the waters the two feet paddling in the back to move forward and backwards, until being informed it was a mechanical harvester. Harvesting is one of the several techniques used at the University of Florida’s own Lake Alice.

“Every lake is different and the economic and environmental concerns depend on the lake and of the method being used.” said Bill Haler, ecologist of University of Florida.

It is not like any other farming such as handpicking and plowing. This is not mass produced it is handmade and has the cost of up to 45,000 dollars. The harvester is used to remove invasive plant species such as Hydrilla. But that is not the only machine used in this process. There is also the conveyor belt and the truck that takes the plants to the dump.

Many lakes suffer from many non-native plant species. Hydrilla first came to be noticed in the late 1950’s and has become one of the most plants to be found invading lake waters. The Hydrilla grows from one to two inches every day. Because of this many small fish species have been unable to produce due to getting caught in machinery.

Chemical control is also a way of trying to reduce the spread of this invasive species. This method is mostly done lake waters. All specimens must be labeled to be approved and also in order to use them in public and portable water. There are 12 active ingredients that are registered and in use. The process is to spray the chemical by airboat or by areal and let them die. It is not all too easy applicators have to be certified and must wear suits to protect themselves.

Many non-native plant species can enter new grounds every day such as animals do in the pet industries.

Steve Johnson, assistant professor has studied these many non-native animal species. There are 50 non-native reptile species in the state of Florida. Many wild reptiles and species have been raised by people and then let out into parks or public areas. This creates the unstable balance of the environment. Letting go of these animals in public areas can cause a fine or years in jail.

“Biochemical is a bad idea,” Johnson said.

Small species can be big problem

By Kylie Gach

Imagine going into your bathroom and opening up your toilet lid to find a Cuban tree frog jump at you, or having that Cuban tree frog clog your sink.

As an assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida, Steve Johnson hears humorous stories like these all the time.

“People aren’t happy when they go in the bathroom and find a frog in the toilet,” he said.

Invasive, also known as exotic, animals are becoming a more widespread problem. There are 50 non-native amphibians and reptiles found in south Florida alone.

Reptiles such as iguanas and Burmese pythons look intriguing behind the glass at the pet store, but they pose a threat to ecosystems.

A big way that many of these invasive animals are coming here is through the pet industry.

“Inspectors look at the imports, but less than 10 percent of the imports are looked at and half of the time we don’t know exactly what they are,” Johnson said.

Many people purchase these exotic animals as pets, but these aren’t the fuzzy, little lovey-dovey creatures you might want. Over time, they become a nuisance and turn out to be aggressive and hard-to-manage animals.

The Nile Monitor, when you purchase it in the pet store, it is probably around six inches. But in a few years, you may find yourself with an intimidating reptile that is around the size of a small alligator and needs to be fed rats or bunnies.

These animals all have their own unique way of escaping from their owners. When they escape, they can find their new habitat harsh and may not be able to adapt to their new surroundings.
Weather harms many of these new species, such as iguanas. During the summer, they get the heat they are used to; however, during the winter, they are used to in Central and South America.

During winters, some people see iguanas dropping from trees because they lost their heat. Some of these iguanas come back and live through the cold.

“Just the weather alone is not a solution because you will always have that small majority that survives,” Johnson said.

Some people find that releasing their pets into the wild is the easiest solution. But, once they are released, they grow and repopulate. People don’t realize that there are other ways to get rid of their dilemma.

In most cases, pet stores will allow you to return your unwanted pets. If you cannot return it to the pet store, you can find it a new home. Even though you may not be able to care for your pet, that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t have the ability to.

Contacting animal control or a wildlife agency may also be an option. They may not always have the equipment to take your pet, but they may be able to provide you with advice.
Euthanasia is also an option. If you can’t find someone to take your pet, you can have a qualified veterinarian euthanize your pet.

People’s knowledge of these exotic animals and what they are doing is a huge part of these invasive animals’ takeover. Knowing what to do and how to handle situations plays a huge role in making sure that our native animals stay safe where they are.

Invasive species like annoying houseguests

By Katlyn Gossett

Non-native invasive species are akin to a distant relative coming to visit for Thanksgiving. They invade your room, they eat all your food, they use all your toilet paper; and all you get out of the experience is a headache and a messy house.

This infamous and unwanted ‘relative’ has been causing environmentalists and neighboring parties’ problems for almost 60 years.

“Invasive species cause many troubles for the environment and are usually introduced by people. They have a negative impact on the quality of human life, cause economical damage, and cause environmental disturbances,” said Steve Johnson, assistant professor of wildlife ecology.

But after the food is gone, your relatives’ stomachs have settled, and after slyly mentioning the long ride home, they leave just as swiftly as they had come. Getting rid of invasive species requires a little more than subtle hints.

Environmentalists endure months which can lead to years of rigorous questioning and incessant experiments to get the government to even acknowledge a non-native invasive species.

Colette Jacono, who specifies in the study of plants, becomes flustered every time she thinks about a non-native invasive plant encroaching on a privately owned piece of land.

“The land owner expects the government to take care of the invasive species, but the government doesn’t even recognize the plant and has no money to come up with a solution,” Jacono said.

The method of having an eco-friendly herbicide created is equally difficult and managing a non-native invasive species is just as costly.

There are only twelve water soluble herbicides that made it through the meticulous process and there are hundreds of water “pests” that need to be managed.

Not all invasive species intimidate with size or brawn, but with a fiery sting like fire ants.

“If I could get rid of one non-native species with a snap of my fingers, it would be fire ants,” Johnson said.

It might not be as easy as a snap of a finger but Johnson has the right idea; the management of non-native invasive species is an issue that needs to be as easy as one, two, and three.

Experts: Do research before buying pets

By Veronica Mingrone

There is a cute eight-inch snake in the pet shop. Spontaneously, you decide to buy it. Everything seems perfectly fine until one year later, that snake is over five feet long. What now?

Steve Johnson, assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida, can tell you what NOT to do. Many people look at the easiest solution -- They release their overgrown pet into the wild. These non-native animals that are introduced by people to an area are called invasive animals. These animals can potentially cause economic and health issues.

“Due to the release of the overgrown pets, there are over 50 invasive species of animals in Florida, and most of them are reptiles,” Johnson said.

These animals include lizards, frogs and snakes. They have arrived to Florida, mainly South Florida, through the pet industry.

As if invasive animals aren’t enough of a difficult task, the environmentalists also have to worry about yet another invader: plants.

The government is now spending a lot of time, money and effort to fix these issues. Some commonly used efforts to eradicate these invaders are physical control, mechanical control, biological control and herbicides.

But all these efforts come with a cost, according to Bill Haller, a professor of aquatic and invasive plants.

A mechanical harvester can be bought for around $45,000. But you cannot use a mechanical harvester alone. With the harvester, you need a conveyer, priced at $20,000. These harvesters can only be used in small lakes and ponds because they only cut 5 feet deep and 10 feet wide. That is $65,000 to eradicate invasive plants in one small area.

For larger areas, researchers like Mike Netherland use their expertise to solve issues. As a US Army engineer and researcher, Netherland researches herbicides to eliminate invasive plants. There are hundreds of herbicides, but only 12 can be used in the water.

“The EPA tells us what tests to use. For example, we need to do a breakdown analysis,” he said. The breakdown test guarantees that the herbicide will not break down into a more hazardous chemical in the future. These tests are carefully reviewed and analyzed for a few months before they are used in open water.

The chemicals are dumped into the water using air boats, helicopters, and sprayers.

“These pesticides are not safe. They are, in fact, toxic,” Netherland said.

The way they apply them and how they use them is key. They try to use this herbicide without creating an adverse effect.

Jim Cuda, a member of the department of entomology, knows taking the proper precautions and researching are some of the most important parts in trying to get rid of invasive species. As a professor of biological weed control, he was able to explain one of the many rigorous tests taken by biological control.

For example, they might introduce a specific insect to eradicate an invasive plant in Florida. But these insects might migrate somewhere else. If these insects could do potential damage in Canada, scientists would test the insects with Canadian weather conditions. If the insect cannot survive in Canada, the scientists would feel comfortable releasing them into the wild in Florida.

“If a biological control can harm an endangered animal, we know right away not to use it,” Cuda said.

These are just two of the many precautions they take.

Biological control is never ending and takes a lot of time to produce desired effects. Environmentalists may combine biological and chemical controls to produce a faster and more permanent result.

Every effort made by the government takes time and money to produce desired effects. Some people blame the pet industry for importing these animals. Johnson, however, shifts the blame to the pet owners.

Releasing a pet is against Florida law. Doing so may get you fined or imprisoned. If you have an overgrown pet, the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation recommend that you return it to the pet store, contact animal control, or euthanize it.

“People should do their research,” Johnson said.

Before you buy a pet, do the proper research. Find out what size they will get. Find out how much money it will take to maintain them. Find out what they will eat. Be knowledgeable on the pet before you become responsible for it.

Pet industry contributes to invasive problem

By Emmy Boyd

As an expert on exotic creatures, Steve Johnson has heard it all when it comes to animals becoming stuck in tight situations.

“I had a friend whose parents’ sink was clogged for a good amount of time,” he said with a chuckle. “They couldn’t figure out the problem until they went to check the pipes and found a couple of Cuban Tree Frogs stuck in the piping.”

While this funny anecdote is fairly common for Florida residents, it is a very serious problem that many overlook, especially because a majority of these creatures are invasive species that are not only a nuisance to people but the environment as well. Currently, there are 50 invasive reptile species in South Florida alone.

“My definition of invasive is an organism, such as a reptile or amphibian that is not native, brought by people and can cause natural harm,” Johnson said.

As an assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida, Johnson has aimed his focus on educating the public on the issue of bringing invasive species out of their natural habitats. One major problem he is dedicated to changing is the pet industry.

“People want exotic animals that they think are cute and cuddly, like an iguana,” he said. “What they don’t realize is that they grow to become very large, aggressive and difficult to manage. Once they figure this out they will often set them into the woods behind their house, which, in the end, does much more harm than good.”

A fairly simple solution to this problem would be to not purchase one of these creatures in the first place. But if one were to already buy an animal and feel the easiest solution would be to set it free, they should reconsider.

“Many students from UF will dump out their aquariums into Lake Alice at the end of the school year instead of taking them home because they don’t want to kill the fish, but they are letting their emotions rule their actions. They’re not doing the fish a favor and not doing the environment a favor,” Johnson said.

So why not just bring the animal back to its native habitat? When brought into a new environment, animals become infected with natural diseases native to the habitat where they live, which, while they have grown immune to them, could become harmful to the other animals native to its habitat.

“Our goal is not to take a problem and move it elsewhere,” he said.

Organizations such as the Southeastern Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are working with the pet industry to regulate how many of these invasive species are brought into the state for public purchase.

“Sometimes [the pet industry] is stubborn and doesn’t want to be regulated,” Johnson said. “But there’s a point where you have to put your foot down to make sure they’re not harming the environment.”

Cuban Tree Frog among non-native threats

By Jennifer Dong
Imagine entering a restroom and being surprised with a Cuban tree frog swimming in the toilet bowl. Later that day, you may be amazed to find that your sink is clogged. After closer inspection, several more Cuban frogs are found to be the source of the sink overflow. The Cuban frog in an invasive pest that is now rising to be a big problem in Florida.

“You’re paying tax money and it’s going to manage invasive pythons,” said Steve Johnson, assistant professor of wildlife ecology.

There are currently over 50 non-native and invasive vertebrates currently thriving in South Florida. These animals are sometimes called aliens due to being brought over from foreign areas. Although they may be native to other regions, the lack of a natural enemy in a new area may cause the specimen to be deemed invasive.

Along with the frogs and pythons, Johnson teaches about other vertebrates including fish, iguanas and fire ants. These are some of the most common invasive species found in Florida. A leading cause of the spread of invasive species is through the pet industry.

“We call it the invasion industry,” Johnson said with a chuckle.

The cute 8-inch iguana you bought on your vacation to South America is going to grow to be a tail whipping 3-foot giant.

“Iguanas start out small and cute but they grow to be quite large,” Johnson cautioned.

The wildlife industry is working with the pet industry in order to find a solution. Large animals such as the iguana, Burmese python and lion fish are often released in the wild by owners that have given up in caring for these animals when they become demanding adults. But these owners might not know that this an illegal act.

These alien creatures can affect an area economically and ecologically, and just be a plain nuisance. For example, a home invaded by fire ants might bring down the real estate value. A pond infested by non-native African Jewelfish might overrun and consume the native species’ territories. And some iguanas have been known to occupy swimming pools, becoming a problem for pool owners.

Steps have been taken to help preserve the native wildlife and manage the invasive wildlife. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has done years of research to find biological control agents. These agents are other animals brought into an ecosystem to help regulate the growth of invasive species. Along with biological controls, pesticides have been created to help the control.

If you ever find yourself opening the front door and unknowingly welcoming an invasive froggy buddy or wanting to release one in your front yard, Johnson would advise against it.

His advice: help your neighborhood wildlife by applying a benzocaine gel to the underbelly and freezing them. It might seem a bit cruel now, but wildlife experts believe it’s a small price to pay when remembering where your taxes go.

Invasive species look nice but pose threat

By Laura Pitts

If you're ever explored the outdoors in Florida, you’re probably aware of an animal that doesn’t quite seem to fit. Bright green against dirt, the green iguana looks like something that belongs in a tropical rainforest rather than your backyard.

These animals are becoming more common because of the release of unwanted pets. These animals may seem harmless, but are a serious issue for the environment.

“Iguanas start out small and cute,” said Steve Johnson, assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida. “But, they grow to be quite large, aggressive and difficult to handle.”

Some pet owners’ first response is to release the animal. While this may seem like the best option, this will most likely kill the animal. In other cases, the pet will survive and reproduce, creating a non-native species.

Invasive species are everywhere, with around 50 non-native species in South Florida alone. They arrive in different ways, from the releasing of pets to coming in with cargo. In Florida, as well as most places in the world, they have a negative ecological and economic impact, as well as being nuisances.

“Just last night, my girlfriend called me and told me that a Cuban Tree Frog jumped on her shoulder as she was walking through her door,” Johnson said.

Cuban Tree Frogs were brought into Florida through cargo ships from Cuba, and are a harm to the environment. They are known for crawling into power equipment and causing short circuits, costing power companies’ money to have them replaced.

Invasive species are an organism not native to the area, introduced by people. They are a potential danger to the environment and economy.

“They come without natural predators,” said Jim Cuda, professor of biological weed control.