Saturday, June 19, 2010

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.

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