8 Species That Are Threatening to Swarm the Globe
As human beings, if there's one thing we're really, really good at, it's driving species to extinction. You're probably doing it right now, without even trying. So it's paradoxical that there are some species out there that we just can't exterminate, and not for want of trying. These creatures breed out of control and march steadily forth, taking human territory miles at a time. So while you're sitting there, calmly reading things on the Internet ...
Zebra Mussels Are Choking the Rivers
What happens when a creature can produce one million eggs a year? This.
They all have names, and at least 40,000 are called Dave.
Those are zebra mussels. They invaded the USA by hitching rides in the ballast water of Russian ships, and once they hit the rivers in the U.S., they spread rapidly, dominating the Great Lakes. So what's the big deal? It's not like they bite or anything. Well, zebra mussels only do one thing, but it turns out that they're really, really good at it: They stick.
Sailors call them "Congressmen of the Sea."
All they need is a hard surface that stays still for 20 seconds, and they'll superglue themselves right on that shit, covering boats, anchors, motors, lobsters, turtles and even other mussels. Those who can't grab hold of anything wind up washing up by the tons on beaches.
This isn't just inconvenient for turtles who suddenly find themselves weighed down in a sticky mussel flash mob -- the cost to us is catastrophic. In 1989, for example, a city in Michigan lost its water supply for three days because the mussels had crammed themselves into the pipe, cementing it shut.
"We're going to need all the Drano."
Since then, millions of dollars have been spent each year attempting to control the legions of mussels, but we can only slow them down. They can't be eradicated with chemicals without contaminating the water supply, and they multiply too quickly to remove by hand.
In short, these mussels are kicking our asses, which is pretty good for an animal that doesn't know how to move or do anything.
It's like a sit-in protest against the whole of humanity.
Cownose Rays Are Storming the Beaches
What you're looking at up there is a picture of thousands upon thousands of cownose rays taken by Florian Schulz, the CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2010. While up close it looks like it would fit right in as an ancillary character in a movie about a cartoon clownfish ...
Voiced by Cameron Diaz.
... what these animals lack in intimidation they more than make up for in Persians-at-Thermopylae-style invasion numbers.
Ever since humans were considerate enough to overfish their main predators (sharks), the cownose ray population has exploded like a meth lab all over the east coasts of the American continents from New England to Brazil, and have established a presence on the African west coast. Wherever they go, they devastate the local oysters, clams and scallops, as well as the industries that rely on them.
It's like an Escher painting come alive.
In an attempt to encourage stingray murder while also trying to come up with a replacement for the decimated shellfish crop, Virginia state officials had a novel idea: Put the rays on the menu. They renamed the cownose ray the more delectable "Chesapeake ray" (because who would ever want to eat a cow), and hyped the critters as having a taste similar to veal. Cooking demonstrations were held and recipes were promoted by famous chefs, but results were described as "less than impressive."
People are picky about what planet-engulfing creatures they want to eat.
Well, shit, what are we going to do about these massive swarms of rays, then? Looks like it's time for science to finally breed those megasharks the SyFy network has been promising us.
Water Chestnuts Are Killing the Lakes
In the late 1800s, a Harvard botanist decided to import some European water chestnut for his personal garden. You would think that, if anyone should know better, it would be a Harvard botanist. You'd think wrong. Within a couple of years, the plant found its way into the Charles River in Massachusetts, where it established a home base and commenced world domination.
At least they left us some.
The water chestnut doesn't sound threatening, but it's nothing less than the Roman Empire of plant species. It covers every square inch of the water with a canopy so dense that boats can't push through it. This blocks all sunlight from reaching the lake bed, which kills the native plant life, which in turn kills the fish. All of this watery death creates a nice, decomposing stew of horrors that the water chestnut just loves to eat.
Not a golf course.
And so it grows. And oh man does it grow. One acre of the chestnut can turn into 100 acres in under a year. Give it another year, and everything is dead. The only way that you can combat it is to wade through the water, pulling the individual plants out by hand. And you have to do it quickly enough that you get all the plants before they go to seed. If you miss that deadline, then every plant you just neglected your family for a year to pull out of the ground is going to sprout right back up again.
Did we mention that they're covered all over with sharp barbs? Because they're covered with sharp barbs.
That look like the jaws of a Predator.
The water chestnut is currently expanding its empire throughout the northeastern United States and parts of Canada. The only thing keeping us alive is that it hasn't yet found a way to live outside of the water. But just you wait. There will come a morning when the sun won't rise, and then you'll know.
Don't try to save them. They're already dead.
Formosan Termites Destroyed a Major City
That's not rain below -- those are Formosan termites. But if you know termites, you know that the real problems don't come when they're whizzing around in the air -- it's when they settle down to start eating buildings.
"Just pretend it's something wholesome, like acid rain."
And, where a regular termite colony will usually eat about 7 pounds of wood per year, a colony of Formosan termites, which came to the U.S. from Asia at the end of World War II, will eat about 1,000 pounds. And they don't stop there. If they get thirsty, they can chew through concrete or plastic to get to water, which often results in exploding pipes. While other termite colonies may be made up of hundreds of thousands, Formosan termite colonies can number in the millions. And once they're established, they've never been successfully eradicated.
"Sup. We like your basement. Oh by the way, you have a basement now."
And get this: After the levees in New Orleans failed when Hurricane Katrina hit, victims sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the disaster. But some scientists say there should have been other defendants in the case. Because five years before the dikes were breached, a college professor named Gregg Henderson discovered Formosan termite tunnels throughout the seams of the dike. After the flooding was over, he went back and examined the flood walls of London Avenue Canal, where two major breaks had occurred, and found that 70 percent of the seams had termite holes. Which would make the Formosan termite the only known insect that can actually destroy a major city.
Clearly the government's attempt to get them the hell out of New Orleans in 1998, Operation Full Stop, was completely ineffective against the first wave of termite warfare.
When termites construct support beams, they effectively own the house.
Now property damage has become an issue of national safety. And the only way we can fight them is with these silly looking fumigation circus tents (you don't want to breathe the kind of chemicals it takes to kill these bastards), which really only drive the termites away, because it makes them think clowns are going to show up.
Oak Processionary Caterpillars Are Coming for Your Lungs
In 2007, the Belgian government actually deployed the military to fight an invasion of insects. What were they? Giant, mutant ants? The bugs from Starship Troopers? Actually, if you've read the title for this entry, you know that they were caterpillars. But not even space caterpillars. Just regular, squishy, fuzzy caterpillars.
Dear Lord, some madman's finally created the Caterpillar Centipede!
The oak processionary caterpillar might look harmless, even cuddly, but the 63,000 toxin-filled hairs covering their bodies make them a crawling biohazard. A simple gust of wind can carry the weapons throughout the air, causing asthma, skin abrasions, anaphylactic shock, blindness and even death. And we're not talking about a few caterpillars here and there. When this species hatches, it becomes a giant, moving carpet of death.
You know what also walks in formation? An army.
And global warming has only helped them spread faster and farther. Warmer weather in the spring in Europe has made them look north for the expansion of their newly formed empire. Doctors in the U.K. have been warning people to carry emergency inhalers because of the caterpillars' potential to trigger severe asthma attacks.
And a disinclination to bone.
What's worse is that they evolved a genetic resistance to pesticides a century ago. Which is why the Belgian government deployed 24 soldiers armed with flamethrowers in 2007 to take out the menace. That's right -- the only way we know how to fight them is to arm ourselves like Kurt Russell in The Thing.
Feral Pigs Are Ripping the Land to Shreds
Don't get us wrong, we as a civilization are in debt to pigs for a lot of things, and most of them are bacon related. But they don't all look like Babe, and some of them would sooner make thin, cured strips out of your belly meat. Feral pigs are hairy, mean-looking beasts currently engaged in a hostile takeover of Australia and the United States.
Drop some napalm, add some OJ and you've got a breakfast buffet.
Weighing up to 400 pounds, they have little to fear from predators and have no problem doling out the occasional ass whipping to humans. And just like their pink, tasty cousins, they eat everything that will fit in their mouths. That's when they're not tearing shit up just for the hell of it. According to the Department of Agriculture, feral swine in the U.S. cause an estimated $800 million in property damage each year, destroying crops, roads, ponds, front yards and everything else, like a bunch of chain-wielding youths moving into the neighborhood. In their wake, they leave this:
In Australia, their incessant rooting, wallowing and tusking has run roughshod over the local ecosystems. According to these guys, "Feral pigs consume bird chicks, reptiles, reptile and bird eggs, frogs, soil organisms, earthworms and other invertebrates." On the rare occasion that they find something they can't eat, they flatten it, just because it pisses them off. As a bonus, the pigs have also been found to be enthusiastic carriers for exotic diseases.
Oh look, they share our hobbies. Golf and destroying the shit out of the environment.
They can be found everywhere in Australia, and in the U.S. they've managed to establish breeding populations in 35 states. And they breed faster than we can kill them -- when Texas declared hunting season for feral swine to be any old time you see one, they found that they weren't making a dent. It was a frustrating realization for the state, marking the first time ever that they were unable to resolve an issue through guns or BBQ.
Stink Bugs Are Stinking Up Your Home
It was only in 1998 that we discovered that the Asian brown marmorated stink bug had invaded North American shores somehow, showing up in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Since then, it has become a world class agricultural pest in 34 different states. Incidentally, it's just our luck that we should be overrun by something called "stink bugs" rather than, say, those beetles that shit gold.
We're sure they have other talents, like good choreography, but their PR sucks ass.
The stink bugs have no natural enemies, probably because there's nothing that prefers to put "stink bug" on the menu, so there's nothing out there to keep their population in check. That's also why, as they continue to spread west, there doesn't seem to be much standing in their way as they nibble through the nation's orchards. Most insecticides are ineffective against them, so scientists are considering culling their numbers through biological controls and parasite introduction. As though there's any situation that can be improved with "more parasites."
But what's more unsettling is the fact that these things have decided that the place they'd most like to settle down and raise a family is right inside your goddamn house.
"Hello, sir. May I interest you in the latest issue of the Watchtower?"
True to their name, stink bugs will gleefully secrete a noxious goo from their hindparts when threatened, so sucking them up in a vacuum or stamping them indiscriminately will instantly infuse your home with the festive odor of ass.
Far from simply being a foul-smelling annoyance, stink bugs also have a taste for fruit right off the vine, which has taken a $37 million chomp out of the U.S. mid-Atlantic apple crop. What's more, they've apparently sent home for reinforcements. The globular stink bug, also known as the kudzu bug and also from Asia, has arrived stateside to ensure that your home smells like rotten farts all year round.
On the bright side, any burglar is due for one serious case of the willies.
Related: Bug Eyes Hold A Weird Secret
Canada Geese Are Crashing Our Planes
As recently as 1960, the giant Canada goose was thought to be totally extinct, until a few determined specimens were found hanging around Minnesota. Vowing to atone for our extinction addiction, and probably disappointed that the "giant" goose wasn't actually the size of a pterodactyl, we put a breeding program into effect to bring the Canada goose back from the brink. A few short decades later, our efforts have proven a resounding success. So successful, in fact, that now we're trying to kill them before they kill us.
That's gratitude for you.
A population estimate of giant Canada geese reports that there are millions of them now, spread out across the United States and Canada, and that their numbers have increased by 3 percent each year from 1998 to 2007. Highly adaptable and living as long as 25 years, they feel perfectly at home in suburbia, cheerfully pooping in parks, beaches, lawns and swimming pools. In 2009, a French outdoor leisure center actually had to be closed down due to a superabundance of goose shit that turned it into a giant disease-ridden slip-n-slide.
If you're ever visiting Maine, you might want to consider a hat.
They've become so comfortable that many of them don't even bother to migrate, deciding to carpet bomb our minivans with excrement full time. That's pretty aggravating for humans, but Canada geese in the wild are downright hazardous to their fellow fowl. They're so territorial that they will actively prevent other species of birds from settling anywhere near their territories, thereby cramping those birds' reproduction chances.
"You gonna have sex? We'll just sit over here and watch. You won't even notice us."
And they're not just assholes to other birds, either. Not particularly impressed with our attempted genocide, they have no fear of humans and will attack you, too, if they find you in their territory. And increasingly, "their territory" refers to "the North American continent."
"Quick! Shit in the wound!"
And you'd be foolish to believe that they won't just kill your ass. Bird strikes in the U.S. cause over $600 million in damage to both civilian and military aircraft per year, and have been directly responsible for the deaths of 219 people since 1988. And the Canada goose has most definitely distinguished itself as a major culprit -- there have been about 1,350 geese/aircraft collisions in the last 20 years. Friends, that's no accident.
"I could see it right before impact, and it was smiling. It was smiling."
For more animals designed to destroy us, check out 6 Animals That Just Don't Give A F#@k and 7 Animals That Are One Flaw Away From Taking Over the World.