Invasive species pose threat to Indiana

By Savannah Schroering

Art by Savannah Schroering

Editor’s Note: To learn more about how FC clubs and organizations work to preserve the environment, read Page 15 of this Friday’s print edition of The Bagpiper on Sept. 2.

Indiana’s forests are beautiful homes to many kinds of plants and animals, but unfortunately have some uninvited guests: invasive species.

“These invasive species are crowding out the natives, so it’s changing the species we had to start with,” said DNR (Department of Natural Resources) interpretive staff member Karen Pierce.

“If you can keep them from coming in, you keep what is naturally here. People want to know what has always been native to Indiana, but you start getting species from other places.”

Many caves in Indiana have been shut down due to white nose syndrome, an invasive fungal disease that has been responsible for the death of millions of American bats. It is unknown if the disease can be transferred to other bats through humans or not, but it is better to be safe and close the caves until further notice.

“The white nose syndrome originally came over from Europe, and the European bats were resistant to it. The area where they’re from doesn’t bother them, but when you relocate them to somewhere else, the environment doesn’t react well to that impact. That lets the species take over,” said DNR interpretive staff member Jarrett Manek. 

“On a plus side, there are some American bats that are showing resistance, but unfortunately a lot of them are still dying out. In some places, there is a 90 percent mortality rate,” said Manek.

Another destructive species introduced from Asia to Indiana is the Emerald Ash Borer. This non-native jewel colored beetle has been a major threat to Indiana’s trees. Over 25 million ash trees have been damaged or killed by this insect.

“The Emerald Ash Borer will unfortunately eat a lot of our ash trees, if not all of them,” said Manek.

They are identifiable by their tiny size, iridescent green color, and the “D” shaped exit holes from where they bore into their leafy victims. Methods such as using pesticides will kill them, but there is a way that may also draw attention to the problem for passersby. Brightly colored traps hang from trees around parks and other places where the Emerald Ash Borer is found. These traps are baited with artificial pheromones, chemicals that attract these insects to the traps.

Less menacing but nonetheless a pest to farmers is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. It is native to countries such as China, Japan, and Taiwan. They are considered a “true bug” (an insect that has mouthparts for piercing and sucking) and use their proboscis to slurp up any agricultural plants it can find, which can cause damage to farms and orchards.

These insects have a defense mechanism that needs to be watched out for, however. If they are handled of distressed, they will release a foul smelling odor similar to skunk spray. This makes them a pest not only to farmers, but also to unsuspecting pets and homeowners everywhere.

A popular solution to keep the numbers of stink bugs down baited traps filled with artificial pheromones, similar to the control of the EAB. DIY traps can easily be made at home with a soda bottle cut in half and inverted, so the curiosity of the insect traps it as it usually can’t fly back out of the bottle.

Another invasive species that has made its home in Indiana is the Zebra Mussel. The Zebra Mussel is a bivalve mollusk that is native to the lakes in Southern Russia but has found its way into Indiana through ballast water from ships. This is when a ship lets out its water, which could have stowaway invasive species inside.

At such a tiny size, one would not think that these little fingernail sized clam-like creatures could be such a problem. However, the Zebra Mussel comes in huge numbers. They come in the thousands, blocking waterways and pipes with their mass. They are also responsible for the loss of other species by cutting off their food supply.

The positive outlook is that the control of these species works, and these methods may eventually drop the numbers of the more destructive and overbearing species. What you can do to take action is as simple as paying attention to signs if you go camping or walking in the woods. Common ways to prevent invasive species is checking your boat for any stowaways, not moving your firewood, and not releasing animals such as pets into an ecosystem where they don’t belong. These simple acts could be the start of stopping the reign of invasive species.

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