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Posts tagged: invasive species

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is Real, and It’s More Than Just a Nuisance

Gypsy moth caterpillar

A gypsy moth caterpillar on a leaf in Massachusetts

While being outside in Massachusetts this June, I first noticed it.  A lot of leaves were falling from the trees, only these were chewed leaf parts, not whole leaves.

Similar to the children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar written by Eric Carle, some leaves didn’t just have chew marks but actual holes going straight through them.  Unlike the children’s book, this damage isn’t being caused by a friendly caterpillar who turns into a butterfly.  Instead it’s the result of ravenous gypsy moth caterpillars feeding…and feeding.  It’s so bad that in some areas, on walkways and roadways, it looks like fall.  Brown, dried up leaves are a contrast to summer’s lush greenery. Read more »

Rabies and Vampire Bats

A vampire bat in Mexico

A vampire bat in Mexico. Photo by Luis Lecuna, USDA APHIS, International Services, Mexico.

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. For APHIS, changes in environmental conditions will increase the likelihood of shifts in the distribution and nature of current domestic diseases, invasive species and agricultural pests.  These changes will likely influence the dynamics of invasion and establishment of these diseases and pests, and therefore much of APHIS’ work. Understanding and adapting to these changes is therefore critical to meeting our mission.

Vampire bats rank high on the list of animals that scare us the most. Spooky Halloween tales of their blood-sucking, nocturnal, and secretive habits have likely led to their bad reputation. The fact that some also carry and spread the deadly rabies virus doesn’t help.

The common vampire bat feeds on the blood of Central and South American wildlife and livestock. They also sometimes bite and feed on the blood of people. Recently, vampire bats have been documented within 35 miles of the Texas border. This has caused concern and speculation about the potential movement of vampire bats to areas within the United States as a result of rising global temperatures. To gain a better understanding of the likelihood of such movement, USDA-APHIS geneticist Dr. Toni Piaggio with the Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center partnered with U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dr. Mark Hayes to analyze and map the potential distribution of vampire bats under various climate scenarios. Read more »

The Little-Known Threat to Wild Turkeys

Turkeys in Texas engaging in courting

Turkeys in Texas engaging in courting before laying eggs, which are increasingly at risk from feral swine. Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Spring brings new life to the fields and forests and wild turkeys are one of the most interesting spectacles this time of year. Male turkeys gobble and strut to attract the attention of hen turkeys. Hens, in turn, go off and lay their eggs- one egg each day until the clutch is complete and the hens then begin incubation.

Unfortunately, this spring more than ever, wild turkeys across the U.S. are facing an increasing threat from a new and rapidly expanding population of nest predators…feral swine. Feral swine, also known as wild pigs, feral hogs, and wild boars, are not native to North America and are the descendants of domestic swine which either escaped or were liberated. In some cases, feral swine are intentionally released to create new hunting opportunities. But these opportunities come at the expense of other wildlife, including ground nesting birds such as the wild turkey. Feral swine are highly adaptable and can learn to seek out turkey nests even before the hen starts incubation, consuming the eggs when left unprotected. When a partially completed clutch is depredated, the hen is forced to start over, depleting vital reserves within herself as well as risking lower nest success and chick survival. Read more »

Real Superheroes Wear Lab Coats

Carrie Harmon at University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Science lab

Carrie Harmon works at University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science labs with the National Plant Diagnostic Network. Photo courtesy of Ray Hammerschmidt

With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the National Plant Diagnostic Network has grown into an internationally respected consortium of plant diagnostic laboratories dedicated to enhancing agricultural security by protecting health and productivity of plants in agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Dr. Ray Hammerschmidt, President of the National Plant Diagnostic Network, discusses this partnership and the benefits all Americans receive in the following guest post:

Superheroes really do work among us. But, instead of capes and cowls and ice palaces and caves, they are often found in a lab at a public university or state agriculture department, wearing lab coats and working over a microscope.

These men and women work daily to protect our communities and crops from dangerous pests and pathogens.  They are plant pathologists, entomologists, nematologists, weed scientists, and other plant scientists who work diligently to mitigate the impact of endemic, emerging, and exotic pathogens and pests that attack agricultural, forest, and landscape plants in the United States. Read more »

National Invasive Species Awareness Week: Snakes, Starlings, and Swine, Oh my!

A brown treesnake, European starlings and feral swine

Brown treesnakes, European starlings and feral swine are just a few of the invasive species whose damages are lessened by Wildlife Services activities. Photos by USDA.

This month USDA highlights some of the important partners that work with us to care for our land, air, water, and wildlife.  The National Invasive Species Council is one such group.

When you hear the word “invasive,” most people automatically think of bugs and weeds. Unfortunately, invasives (or non-native pests) can also include wildlife, such as birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Read more »

From Devastation to Restoration

Forest Service scientists using a greenhouse in Washington State to grow bluebunch wheatgrass

Forest Service scientists use a greenhouse in Washington State to grow bluebunch wheatgrass as part of their current reciprocal transplant project. It is one of the largest and most intensive projects of its kind ever attempted.

Wildfires in sagebrush and other range ecosystems are increasing in frequency and severity, often in relation to drought conditions and intrusive species like cheatgrass, a non-native, highly flammable invasive species that establishes itself as a monoculture and crowds out native grasses and forbs.

“What’s preferable to a monoculture is a diverse plant community that includes native grasses, forbs and shrubs,” said Francis Kilkenny, leader for the Great Basin Native Plant Project, a joint effort of the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, or BLM. Read more »