Lionfish, Competition & The Big Tournament

“What you’re hunting isn’t prey,” a lionfish diver told me. “It’s the enemy.”Illustrations by Johnny Dombrowski

D. T. Max has vividly sketched humans in competitive mode, harnessing tournament rules to address the aggressions of this introduced species. In the decades-long perspective, lionfish are winning the bigger tournament by adapting and expanding their range; but we admire the drive to end that success:

Killing Invasive Species Is Now a Competitive Sport

In the Panhandle, where swarms of lionfish gobble up native species, a tournament offers cash prizes to divers skilled at spearing one predator after another.

Rachel Bowman is a diver who specializes in the hunting, catching, and killing of lionfish, a species native to Indo-Pacific waters. Continue reading

Lionfish Leather

A lionfish caught off Venezuela, where the authorities organise sport fishing competitions to curb the dangerous proliferation of the invasive species. Photograph: Yuri Cortéz/AFP/Getty

Lionfish came to our attention in a series of posts starting in 2014. That year we came to see that fighting this invasive species would require innovative entrepreneurial conservation methods. We published more posts and series about initiatives in the years since then, but the problem continued to grow. For some reason the stories about initiatives started fading from our attention and then stopped with a post in 2018. Now, 22 posts since the first post and four years since the last one, lionfish are back in our thoughts thanks to Inversa’s innovation:

Lionfish leather. Inversa says it is helping to solve an environmental crisis by using an invasive species that eats lots of other fish but has no predators in much of its range. Photograph: Inversa

Fish leather is here, it’s sustainable – and it’s made from invasive species to boot

An avid diver saw how lionfish have devastated populations of Florida’s native tropical fish and resolved to help solve the problem

Aarav Chavda has been diving off the coast of Florida for years. Each time he became increasingly depressed by the ever-growing void, as colourful species of fish and coral reefs continued to disappear. Continue reading

More Māori Ancestral Knowledge Coming Your Way

William Anaru, the biosecurity manager of the local tribe, Te Arawa, at Lake Rotomā. Cornell Tukiri for The New York Times

Pete McKenzie shares more from the place where ancient knowhow is respected:

As a weed choked a New Zealand lake, a tribe found a surprising solution in a centuries-old tool, adding to a pitched debate over how Indigenous knowledge can complement conventional science.

LAKE ROTOMA, New Zealand — A riot of native plant life once covered the shallows of Lake Rotomā, one of the many bodies of water that speckle New Zealand’s upper North Island. At night, mottled green crayfish scuttled from the deep to graze beneath the fronds in such plentiful numbers that the local Māori tribe could gather a meal in a few minutes of wading. Continue reading

Pythons, Bobcats & Camera Traps

A Burmese python and a bobcat facing off in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida last June, captured by a trap camera set up by the U.S. Geological Survey. U.S.G.S.

We have been posting about invasive pythons, as well as plenty of other invasive species, annually for more than a decade now. Likewise, feline wildlife has been a recurring theme. Not to mention camera traps, another theme we care about.

For a surprising overlap of those two themes, or otherwise just a very well-written story about wildlife, read Matt Kaplan’s article about how Bobcats With a Taste for Python Eggs Might Be the Guardians of Florida’s Swamp.

The bobcat eating the eggs. U.S.G.S.

Our congratulations to Dr. Andrea Currylow for the determined pursuit leading this scientific finding, and with no disrespect to pythons as a species in their native territories, in this case may the best cat win:

Cameras captured the wild feline purloining a Burmese python’s eggs, giving hope that the state’s native species are responding to a voracious, invasive predator.

The bobcat took a swipe. U.S.G.S.

The voracious appetite of the invasive Burmese python is causing Florida’s mammal and bird populations to plummet. With little natural competition to control the big snake’s numbers, the situation looks desperate. But new observations suggest that the bobcat, a wildcat native to Florida, might be able to help. Continue reading

Invasivorism & Reasonable Questions

Grey squirrels have driven the local extinction of the native red across much of England and Wales. Photograph: Paul Broadbent/Alamy

If you do not eat animal protein, this concept may not appeal to you. But if you allow that others who eat meat may be able to do so ethically, then read on.

If you do eat any kind of meat, then it is a reasonable question whether invasive species are fair game: Rack of squirrel, anyone? The chefs putting invasive species on the menu

Roast rack of squirrel, fondant jersey royal potatoes, carrot and wild garlic served at Paul Wedgwood’s restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photograph: Wedgwood

‘Invasivorism’ is a growing ethical dining trend but is ‘eat them to beat them’ really the answer?

From oral contraceptives to proposals to edit their DNA, efforts to control the UK’s invasive grey squirrel population have become increasingly elaborate. But a growing number of chefs and conservationists have a far simpler idea, which they see as part of the trend in ethical dining: eat them. Continue reading

Crazy Yellow Ants, Be Gone From This Island

Hundreds of frigate birds and boobies fly over a Crazy Ant Strike Team crew of volunteers at Johnston Atoll NWR.
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In common language, they are called crazy. They terrorize birds on an island where they did not belong. On this platform we are always going to side with the birds. Full stop. But, even these lousy things ants do are impressive. They remind us that one day ants will rule the planet.

Yellow Crazy Ants, An Enemy To Seabirds, Have Been Wiped Out On A Remote Atoll

The yellow crazy ant was last spotted by Crazy Ant Strike Teams on the vital seabird nesting grounds in December 2017, but it was too soon to tell if they’d been fully extinguished because their colonies are found underground. Robert Peck/HCSU/USGS

After more than a decade, the terrorizing reign of the yellow crazy ant is over on the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

The nonnative invasive insect had been threatening ground-nesting seabirds on the atoll since at least 2010, nearly wiping out the island’s red-tailed tropicbird colony in just a few years and wreaking havoc on other seabirds. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that its campaign to eradicate the insects has been a success. Continue reading

The Locus Of Locust Control

A swarm of desert locusts in Meru, Kenya, in February. Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

We respect all things natural, but we acknowledge there are phenomena that test our principles. Historic swarms of locusts, for example, make us believe that getting control over their impact is essential for communities where they can lay waste to human endeavor, so we thank Rachel Nuwer for this story from one of the hardest-hit regions:

A swarm inundating Naiperere, near the town of Rumuruti, in Kenya in January. When the rains come, locusts can form swarms of more than 15 million insects per square mile. Baz Ratner/Reuters

As Locusts Swarmed East Africa, This Tech Helped Squash Them

A hastily formed crowdsourcing operation to contain the insects in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia could help manage climate-related disasters everywhere.

Lake Joseph, a locust tracker, in Samburu County, Kenya in May 2020. Fredrik Lerneryd/Getty Images

Melodine Jeptoo will never forget the first time she saw a locust swarm. Moving like a dark cloud, the insects blotted out the sky and pelted her like hail.

“When they’re flying, they really hit you hard,” said Ms. Jeptoo, who lives in Kenya and works with PlantVillage, a nonprofit group that uses technology to help farmers adapt to climate change. Continue reading

Kelp Forests And Invasive Urchins

Purple sea urchins have boomed off Northern California, destroying kelp forests that provide a crucial ecosystem. Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS

Kelp is being farmed now, but where it is a naturally occurring forest it needs help. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this:

In Hotter Climate, ‘Zombie’ Urchins Are Winning And Kelp Forests Are Losing

They’re purple, spiky and voracious, and just off the West Coast, there are more of them than you can count.

Purple sea urchins have exploded in recent years off California, covering the ocean floor in what divers describe as a “purple carpet.” Continue reading

Under A White Sky

The continuing struggle to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes system has included solutions ranging from electrified water barriers to thrillingly impractical suggestions like stopping them with flying knives. Nerissa Michaels/Illinois River Biological Station, via Detroit Free Press

We have not featured any of her work since this review of H is for Hawk but we are happy to read Helen Macdonald’s work again with this review:

Can We Patch Up the Natural World We’ve Hurt?

UNDER A WHITE SKY
The Nature of the Future
By Elizabeth Kolbert

A few years ago YouTube recommended I watch a video with the word “carpocalypse” in its title. I clicked the link — of course I did — and stared in awe at what resembled a mash-up of a video game, nature documentary and war movie. I saw a river full of fish leaping from the water like chaotic piscine fireworks and men in speedboats yelling and holding out nets to catch them as if they were wet and weighty butterflies. Fish hitting people in the face, fish landing in boats, fish flapping between people’s feet in a mess of slime and blood. Continue reading

Organikos A Decade Ago & Non-Patagonian Beavers

In a brief interview a student recorded my description of the work I was doing in southern Chile from 2008-2010. The Patagonia Expedition Race had secured Wenger’s sponsorship, and now graduate students from Columbia Business School, as well as from Cornell Hotel School, were developing a strategy for how best to use that sponsorship money to achieve lasting conservation results. The patch on the left arm of my jacket shows another sponsor.

Organikos was a minor sponsor compared to Wenger, but in that earlier iteration of Organikos we were already thinking about what is now the 100% Forward commitment.  As a sponsor, I also served coffee from sunrise to sunset at each station along the Race’s 500-mile route. Somewhere I have photos of the race teams drinking Organikos coffee, but at the moment I only find this one of me prepping coffee in the traditional Costa Rican manner to serve to Race volunteers in a farmhouse where we had spent the night on Tierra del Fuego.

In this photo to the left I was waiting for the racers who would soon be arriving at this station in their kayaks. As serious as I appeared to be, it would take nearly a decade to get that coffee launched more formally into the market.

Images Andrew Wilson, Mark Humpfrey, Nicola MaCleod and Bruce Duncan of Team Helly Hansen-Prunesco paddling their way to victory in stage 15 of the 2010 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race on the island of Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile. Michael Clark Photography

Not long after the photos above were taken, we accepted a new assignment in India that would put the original idea of Organikos on hold. Recently, when Seth took the name and gave it a clear conservation mission, coffee was still the most viable product to start with. I am reminded of all that thanks to Sandra Laville, and the Guardian. Her article, full of good news related to conservation funding in the UK, triggers my memory of the fact that beavers are an invasive species in Patagonia and the Race had the mission of controlling their spread, in the interest of wilderness conservation. Beavers in their natural habitat are in need of protection in some locations, I see:

Wetlands, beavers and Cinderella causes; the growth of environmental funding

Donations from individuals and charities to green causes more than double since 2016

Funding from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species helped reintroduce beavers in Knapdale Forest in Scotland. Photograph: Steve Gardner/Scottish Wildlife Trust/PA

Philanthropic donations to environmental causes have more than doubled in value in the UK as the climate crisis and unprecedented biodiversity loss attract increasing attention from individuals and charities.

The amounts of money given to support efforts to tackle climate change and nature loss range from £5,000 to millions of pounds, and the focus of the funding is as broad.

It includes a £10,000 donation given to support a successful campaign for a deposit return scheme in Scotland; the funding of grassroots defenders of Europe’s last primeval forest, in Poland, and the protection of wetlands in Montenegro; and millions of pounds in support of environmental legal challenges and donations to back campaigning against fossil fuels. Continue reading

You Can’t Have Your Crabcake And Eat It Too

Pot of red gold … Norway exported nearly $9m worth of king crab in October alone. Photograph: Cultura Travel/Philip Lee Harvey/Getty

Invasive species sometimes lead to creative opportunities, but rarely without some tradeoffs:

Crab-22: how Norway’s fisheries got rich – but on an invasive species

Known locally as ‘Stalin’s Red Army’, an invasion of king crabs from Russia created a lucrative industry, and difficult choices

Bugøynes

Fishermen in Bugøynes were struggling before the crabs marched in from Russia. Photograph: Nadia Isakova/Alamy

The Norwegian fishing village of Bugøynes, 310 miles north of the Arctic Circle and a frigid, dark place for much of the year, was on the edge of ruin.

Work was scarce. Years of overfishing and mismanagement had stymied cod quotas. Boats lay idle in cold waters. Those who chose to stay were forced to rely on what meagre wages they could still muster from fishing and processing. Continue reading

One More Reason Why Native Plant Species, Not To Mention Insects, Matter

ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE / YALE E360

As the curvy berm we started forming earlier this year, combined with 100+ newly planted trees, transition from wet season to dry season, we have been noticing an uptick in insects. While most of my early life experiences in Connecticut led me to believe that the world (or at least I) would be better off with fewer insects, I now think exactly the opposite. Last Sunday I had my first sighting of a bird (same species as our friend Daniel captured by camera in Guatemala a few weeks ago) that is likely here for some of those insects. That sighting alone would have been enough to convince me that more insects are better than fewer. Janet Marinelli‘s article in Yale Environment360 gives me more to ponder on this topic:

How Non-Native Plants Are Contributing to a Global Insect Decline

The impact of introduced plants on native biodiversity has emerged as a hot-button issue in ecology. But recent research provides new evidence that the displacement of native plant communities is a key cause of a collapse in insect populations and is affecting birds as well.

Zebra swallowtails are entirely dependent on pawpaw trees, which have leaves that are the butterflies’ larvae only source of food. COURTESY OF DOUGLAS TALLAMY

For years, Doug Tallamy sounded the alarm about the grave threat that plants introduced from abroad pose to native insects. By transforming native plant communities into so-called novel landscapes increasingly dominated by exotic species on which many insects cannot feed, the University of Delaware entomologist speculated, they imperil not only insects but also the birds and other animals that depend on insects for survival. Continue reading

Hornet Hunters of Paris

Urban beekeeping has exploded in Paris, and the honeybees have become an easy target for invasive wasps.

We recently published some good news about a similar invasive insect in Washington State, but it’s important to note that the species on the prowl in Paris is related, but not the same.  Although far less dangerous (tell that to the honeybee prey…) they still are a menace to other insects, especially honeybees. The good news here is that the hornets have been in France for well over a decade, and the human wasp controllers have the skills and tools to combat them, protecting the thriving businesses of urban apiculture.

The Murder Hornet Hunters of Paris

And other tales of hives and honeybees in the City of Light.

“The queen is dead?” a preschool administrator in suburban Paris asked Matthieu Bize, a wasp controller who had come to rid the schoolyard of Asian hornets.

On the ground, a nest was in tatters. Twenty minutes earlier, it had been high up in an ivy-choked tree, where it looked like a jumbo gray-brown balloon. Mr. Bize, 32, had sent a telescopic pole through the canopy, injected a paralyzing white powder into the hornets’ home, and knocked it down. The colony’s larvae, future queens among them, were strewn about. “Nearly finished here,” he said.

In English, the Bize family name is pronounced “bees”; in French, it is “bise” (short for kisses). Dozens of times a day, when Mr. Bize answers his cellphone — “C’est Monsieur Bize” — this gentle phrasing sweetens an otherwise sting-y situation.

For Mr. Bize doesn’t hunt just any pest. One-third of the nests to which he responds belong to a species of dreaded “murder hornet,” a type of wasp that beheads and feeds to its larvae an insect that is very important to, and symbolic of, France: the honeybee.

Beyond the fact that Napoleon chose the honeybee for his logo in the early 19th century (the emperor favored the insect for its tenacity), France is the European Union’s largest agricultural producer, and generally known for pollinator-friendly policies. It is also one of Europe’s major honey trade hubs.

Continue reading

Can There Be Murder Hornet Good News?

Hornets with radio trackers attached led entomologists to the nest. Washington State Department of Agriculture

If you noted the danger five months ago, and find this topic newsworthy, you know how important it was to find the nest. Finally, after an exhaustive search, they found it and it seems we should count this as good news, especially in a year like 2020:

Murder Hornet Nest, First in U.S., Is Found in Washington State

Officials said they planned to destroy the nest in Blaine, Wash., on Saturday before the voracious Asian giant hornets could multiply and lay waste to bees.

Like detectives closing in on a fugitive hide-out deep in the woods, officials in Washington State announced on Friday that they had located the first murder hornet nest in the United States, tucked in a tree hollow near the Canadian border.

The officials said they planned to destroy the nest in Blaine, Wash., on Saturday before the voracious Asian giant hornets could multiply and begin laying waste to bees that are vital to the survival of the region’s raspberries, blueberries and other crops. Continue reading

Word Matters: Words Matter

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We don’t speak of bears or tigers murdering people. Why, suddenly, hornets? Photograph by Elaine Thompson / Pool / AFP / Getty

When we first linked to a story about this creature, we were sharing a familiar story of introduced and invasive species and a creative approach to controlling the spread. We have favored entrepreneurial approaches, so that culinary story from Japan fit perfectly in our pages. But we also have been equally attentive to word matters since we started on this platform. So Matthew Alt’s coverage of this story, demonstrating how much words matter, also fits perfectly in our pages:

Do “Murder Hornets” Really Exist?

The answer hinges on a peculiarity of the Japanese language.

In the Old Testament, God wrought ten plagues upon humanity. In modern times, we have our hands full with just one: covid-19. Or so we thought, until it was reported, in the May 2nd edition of the Times, that a new pestilence is afoot. “Murder hornets” with “mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins,” we were told, were descending upon North America from their native habitat of Asia. Within twenty-four hours, the hashtag #murderhornets was trending on Twitter, fuelled by all the excitement befitting what sounds like a newly discovered species of homicidal Pokémon. Sensing a rare non-virus viral story, major media outlets ranging from the Washington Post to Fox News pounced. They began amplifying the insect threat with their own details, many of them simply rephrased from the original piece; by the middle of last week, Jimmy Fallon was interviewing a “murder hornet” in costume on “The Tonight Show.” (“Look, we’re just regular old bees who happen to make things fall asleep forever.”)

This is a familiar story of how trending topics drive the modern news cycle, but it’s also a testament to the power of a catchy label. Continue reading

Crunch, Buzz, Twist & Shout

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Asian giant hornets from Japan in a display case at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

For every invasion there is an appropriate response, and sometimes it is culinary. Thanks to Ben Dooley for this set of ideas:

In Japan, the ‘Murder Hornet’ Is Both a Lethal Threat and a Tasty Treat

Long before the insects found their way to American shores, some Japanese prized them for their numbing crunch and the venomous buzz they add to liquor.

D-Tp6RhUwAAGMYtTOKYO — Long before the Asian giant hornet began terrorizing the honeybees of Washington State, the ferocious insects posed a sometimes lethal threat to hikers and farmers in the mountains of rural Japan.

But in the central Chubu region, these insects — sometimes called “murder hornets” — are known for more than their aggression and excruciating sting. They are seen as a pleasant snack and an invigorating ingredient in drinks.

The giant hornet, along with other varieties of wasps, has traditionally been considered a delicacy in this rugged part of the country. The grubs are often preserved in jars, pan-fried or steamed with rice to make a savory dish called hebo-gohan. The adults, which can be two inches long, are fried on skewers, stinger and all, until the carapace becomes light and crunchy. They leave a warming, tingling sensation when eaten. Continue reading

Invasive Python Hunting Season

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A Florida Wildlife Commission employee captures a Burmese python during the kickoff event for the Florida Python Challenge in Sunrise, Florida, on 10 January. Photograph: Joe Cavaretta/AP

We first started paying attention to invasive species here. Since then, every year, we pay more and more attention, especially to the pythons in the Everglades. It is that time of year:

Florida hunters capture more than 80 giant snakes in Python Bowl

Annual challenge encourages the public to catch as many of the invasive giant snakes that decimate native wildlife as possible

Most visitors to the mosquito-infested swamps of the Florida Everglades are happy to leave again quickly: a half-hour airboat ride and photograph of a basking alligator is usually enough to satisfy the curiosity of any tourist keen to return to the theme parks and beaches – or sports events – of the sunshine state’s more traditional attractions. Continue reading

Graphic Artists & Ecological Education

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Since we started this platform in 2011 I have been on the lookout for graphical representations that help me, and therefore might help others, understand complex issues related to the environment. Photography has been the easiest reach for me, perhaps because I am a son of, a brother of, and a father of people who have mastered that form. Comics were not part of my life, so that form has eluded me. And I realize that the work of Susie Cagle escaped my attention–as I have shared visual artists’ depictions of natural phenomena, with science and especially ecological issues emphasized–until now. And this is a good way for her work to come to my attention, because in our family we have been debating this tree’s value for decades:

Fire-starting weed or ecological scapegoat? The battle over California’s eucalyptus trees

The fight over a celebrated exotic plant highlights questions over California’s future amid the climate crisis

Time To Make Lemonade

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A purple urchin at Bodega Marine Lab in California, which is running a pilot project to remove purple urchins from the ocean floor, restore them to health, then sell them as premium seafood. Photograph: Terry Chea/AP

With invasive species, sometimes the only thing to do with such lemons is make them tasty:

Sea urchin population soars 10,000% in five years, devastating US coastline

Voracious purple urchins in waters of California and Oregon pose threat to kelp forests and risk upending delicate ecosystems

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An aerial view of one of the last remaining kelp forests near Elk, California, on the Mendocino county coast, which has lost more than 90% of its bull kelp in less than a decade. Photograph: Terry Chea/AP

Tens of millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have already chomped their way through towering underwater kelp forests in California are spreading north to Oregon, sending the delicate marine ecosystem off the shore into such disarray that other critical species are starving to death.

A recent count found 350m purple sea urchins on one Oregon reef alone – more than a 10,000% increase since 2014. And in northern California, 90% of the giant bull kelp forests have been devoured by the urchins, perhaps never to return.

Vast “urchin barrens” – stretches of denuded seafloor dotted with nothing but hundreds of the spiny orbs – have spread to coastal Oregon, where kelp forests were once so thick it was impossible to navigate some areas by boat. Continue reading

Python Prey

 

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An American alligator in its natural habitat in the Florida Everglades. Burmese pythons have been know to prey on alligators in the area. Photograph: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian’s Lance Richardson for updating us on the Everglades python saga we have been reading about for some years now, thanks to this story:

Python wars: the snake epidemic eating away at Florida

There are tens of thousands of pythons in the Florida wild, attacking animals and damaging ecosystems – and the quest to stop them has become a collective crusade

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A python in a tree. Photograph: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

On a Thursday afternoon in St Petersburg, Florida, Beth Koehler crouches over a cairn terrier named Ginger, trimming intently as fur collects around her feet. On Koehler’s arm is a scratch – red, jagged and freshly acquired, though not in the way one might expect of a dog groomer.

“There was no way I could pin the head,” Koehler says, referring to the snake that was partly responsible. She had grabbed hold however she could, which made it “pissed”: “It decided to coil up and just throw itself at me.” Startled, Koehler had fallen backwards, cutting herself on a vine – an injury far preferable to the bite of a Burmese python.

“I have never been bit,” she proudly adds. “Peggy’s been bit once, but really, we’re very careful.”

Three days a week, Koehler runs Hair of the Dog with her partner of 31 years, Peggy van Gorder. The other four days the couple are usually out chasing pythons as members of Patric: the Python Action Team – Removing Invasive Constrictors, which is managed by the Florida fish and wildlife conservation commission (FWC). Continue reading