Posts Tagged ‘invasive species’

USDA Warns About Asian Longhorned Beetle

USDA warns about invasive Asian Longhorned Beetle

The US Department of Agriculture is asking residents along the Great Lakes corridor and beyond to watch out for an invader- the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

 

 

 

The bug is definitely creepy. It has long antennas with white stripes.  And a black glossy exterior with asymmetrical white spots. It can fly, but it doesn’t like to, said Andrea Locke the coordinator for WNY Prism, the organization was hosting the invasive clean up.

“This particular bug, it’s impressive. It’s a large bug. It’s about an inch to an inch and a half in size if folks see it they’re going to notice. It’s just a matter of connecting that noticing the bug and understanding that this is something that people need to report,” Locke said.

Essentially, the insect eats the tree from inside out. It burrows deep inside and lays eggs. The larva grows into an adult. It emerges leaving an exit hole. Its damage trees can’t usually recover from.

But, what does the damage look like?

You might see dime sized holes in the trunk or branches. Sometimes you’ll see tunneling marks. There’ll also be a sawdust like material on the ground.

“The Asian Longhorned Beetle is one of the most destructive forest pests that could have entered the United States,” said Rhonda Santos of the USDA.

The organization is trying to eliminate the bug. They inspect and remove infested trees. They also set up quarantine areas.  So far, the bug has led to the loss of more than 160,000 trees across the nation.

It was first detected in the US, in 1996. Experts believe it came from wooden packing material, used in cargo shipments from China.

“When we find an Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation it usually takes at least 10 years to be able to eliminate the beetle from that area. That goes back to finding every infested tree, removing it and, continuing to search the remaining trees, to make sure the beetle is not there,” she said.

The bug was eliminated from areas in Illinois and New Jersey. There are still active infestations in Ohio, Massachusetts, New York and Canada. This summer, the quarantine in southwest Ohio was expanded. Santos says they were proactively searching about a mile outside the zone and found a bug.

“There’s a concern that this insect can be where we don’t know it to be already. And certainly for the Great Lakes region, where you have so many trees,” Santos said. “Particularly, in the northern border of the US, those trees go right into Canada and because we have so many trees, that’s a greater risk that this pest could go after those trees in that area.”

Report findings at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/home/

http://asian-longhorned-beetle.com/

 

Original article published on Great Lakes Echo.

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Invasive Alert: Chinese Tallow Tree

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The state of Alabama doesn’t worry too much about invasive plants like privet or kudzu, which have seemed to take over much of the south. No, the one botanists fear is the Chinese tallow tree.

Also known as the popcorn tree for the white, waxy tallow substance on its fruit that kind of looks like popcorn, this tree is so invasive in Alabama that they have taken to fighting it from the air.

So why should Michigan be concerned?

The U.S. Forest Service has data that shows the tree’s population has grown 500% between 1991 and 2005.

The tree thrives in wetland environments, but is not limited to them. The tree can grow in suburban areas, forest edges, and even sand dunes. It is still a popular ornamental tree in residential neighborhoods for its bright red fall color.

Yet once established this tree spreads quick. One mature Chinese tallow can produce 100,000 seeds every year. Those seeds are spread by birds and other animals, as well as flood waters. And the seeds can stay dormant for years before sprouting.

In addition to seeds, Chinese tallow has an extensive root system, with new shoots sprouting along it. These two things combined mean tallow can grow in clusters so thick that it drowns out all other native plants.

And it’s not that far away. According to a map from the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, the plant was found in a county in southern Wisconsin as of July 2017.

The moral of this story?

Keep an eye out for plants that look unusual to you. It may be something that doesn’t belong. Learn from Alabama’s experience. If you find something you’re not sure of, check out the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network and report it if it’s invasive.

Be wary of what you purchase at a nursery or your local home supply store garden center. Make sure that it’s native to Michigan and you aren’t becoming the source of a new infestation of an invasive plant.

Read more about Chinese tallow tree below.

 

Alabama fears this invasive plant so much we attacked it from the air

Posted July 31, 2017, News from Al.com

Dennis Pillion | dpillion@al.com

When talking about invasive plants in Alabama, kudzu and privet tend to be the ones people are most familiar with, but they’re not the ones Alabama botanists and wildlife officials are most worried about.

One of those is the Chinese tallow tree, or popcorn tree, one of Alabama’s most invasive species.

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Watch Out for Wild Parsnip

Invasive plants and animals are typically only a threat to other plants and animals, but occasionally they can be a danger to us as well.

While giant hogweed is on the watch list in Michigan as a new invasive species, wild parsnip is becoming more common, especially in the northern parts of Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

And while it’s looks similar to other members of the wild carrot family, this is one plant you definitely don’t want to mess with. Contact with its juices can cause rashes, blisters, and burns. The skin discoloration can last for years.

The article below has more details about wild parsnip. You can also get good identification information here.

Watch Out for Wild Parsnip

Originally published: July 19, 2016

U.S. Forest Service, Hiawatha National Forest

Flowering Yellow umbel of Wild ParsnipGladstone, MI — Wild Parsnip, also known as Pastinaca sativa, is an herbaceous perennial with yellow-flowered umbels atop 3- to 5-foot tall stems.  While it may be pretty to look at, people who touch the plant soon discover its less appealing trait:  When the juices of the Wild Parsnip plant touch your skin and are exposed to ultra-violet light, they cause serious rashes, burns and blisters called “phytophotodermatitis.” The resulting skin discoloration can last several months. If you come in contact with Wild Parsnip and notice development of burns, cover the affected area with a cool, wet cloth and seek medical attention.

Wild Parsnip’s toxic compounds (called furanocoumarins) are found in the juices of its leaves, stems, flowers, and even fruits. Phytophotodermatitis will usually appear within 24 to 48 hours and is painful.  In many cases, the blisters will lead to brownish pigmentation that can last for years.

According to Hiawatha National Forest’s East Zone Botanist, Stephanie Blumer, this invasive plant has become increasingly common across the Upper Peninsula.

“The key for outdoors enthusiasts,” she said, “is to learn to recognize this plant so that when you see it, you can avoid it.”

How can you recognize Wild Parsnip?  While it looks similar to several other carrot family plants, the flowers of Wild Parsnip are yellow and the stem is smooth and green with very few hairs. Its leaves are long, saw toothed, pinnately compound and form a basal rosette during the first year. The leaves are further divided into leaflets that grow across from each other along the stem, with 2 to 5 pairs of opposite leaflets. In its second year from June until mid-July, and sometimes even through late summer, the plant flowers. Its flowers are small and yellow with five petals and there are hundreds per plant. The flowers are arranged in 2-6 inch wide umbels at the tops of stems and branches, and there are usually no bracts, and very small or non-existent sepals at the base of the flowers.

“As Wild Parsnip spreads, more people are coming into contact with it,”” said Deb LeBlanc, West Zone Plant Ecologist for the Hiawatha. She added that individuals who will be working, hiking, or involved in other activities around the plant can reduce the risk of exposure by wearing long-sleeved shirts, gloves, and long pants.

What are your chances of encountering Wild Parsnip?  While it originates from Eurasia, Wild Parsnip has become a common invasive plant in U.P roadsides, ditches, and other disturbed open areas.  Believed to have been introduced to North America by early European settlers who grew it as a tap root; the wild populations are thought to be a result of escaped cultivated plants. Wild Parsnip is a plant that inhabits various growing conditions such as dry, moist, and even wet-mesic prairies, oak-openings, and calcareous fens.

Once it invades open ranges, it begins to take over in waves and spreads rapidly, especially in disturbed areas. This invasive plant is spread through the distribution of its seeds that are carried by the wind, vehicles, equipment, and water. The seeds themselves, are typically large, slightly yellow, ribbed, flat, and round. It is around September through November that the plant will produce its seed and being a monocarpic perennial, once the plant seeds, it will die. However, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to four years, thus adding to the difficulties of eradicating the plants existence.

“Wild parsnip has been designated as a State Noxious weed in approximately 35 states. “Besides the obvious health risk, the plant is problematic due to its ecologically invasive habit,”” said LeBlanc.

For further information on Wild Parsnip contact your local Forest Service botanist at 906-387-2512 extension 20 or 906-643-7900.

Gypsy Moth Attacking Michigan Trees…Again

Ugh, they’re back! Or maybe it’s more accurate to say they never left.

Gypsy moth has been a pest to Michigan trees for decades, ever since it was introduced to the state in 1954. While the invasive pest has never been eliminated, some years seem to be worse than others? This year seems to be particularly bad. Why? One word: drought.

Read the below article by Michigan State University Extension to find out how drought can cause booms in gypsy moth populations.

 

Gypsy moth caterpillars once again attacking trees in Michigan

Large numbers of gypsy moth caterpillars strip trees in Mid-Michigan as drought hampers fungal controls.

Barrier band for gypsy moth larva control. Photo by Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Forestry, Bugwood.org.

Barrier band for gypsy moth larva control. Photo by Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Forestry, Bugwood.org.

 

They are back! A Clinton County resident contacted the Michigan State University Extension Lawn and Garden Hotline to report heavy caterpillar feeding in maples, pines and apple trees. A few trees had lost much of their foliage. A photo of the caterpillars confirmed it is gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar. For Michigan residents that have dealt with gypsy moths in the past, it is an unwelcome sight but one that is not unexpected.

Twenty to 30 years ago, gypsy moth was a plague across Michigan, defoliating thousands of acres of trees each year. Without many natural controls, it wreaked havoc on oaks, pines, maples, birches, apples and many other species. In 1989, a fungal pathogen was found killing off large populations of gypsy moth caterpillars in Northeastern states. This fungus was identified as Entomophaga maimaiga, a natural biological control of gypsy moth in Japan.

Brought to Michigan in 1991, E. maimaiga quickly became a key factor in suppressing gypsy moth across the state. Naturally occurring in soils, it spreads to young caterpillars as they move from tree to tree. Caterpillars begin to die as the fungus grows inside them. The spores from these dying and dead caterpillars spreads by wind infecting other caterpillars. As the season progresses, large infected gypsy moth caterpillars are found dying on tree trunks. Dead caterpillars remain attached to trunks and branches, hanging straight down. E. maimaiga is so effective that areas of the state often go for years without any noticeable damage from this ferocious defoliator.

So why are gypsy moths back in large numbers and feeding on trees? Drought! The fungus cannot effectively reproduce during times of drought. A year ago much of Michigan was in a serious drought from spring to early summer.  This is the time the fungus is dependent on moisture for its development and of course it is also the time gypsy moth caterpillars begin to feed on trees. Callers to the MSU Extension state hotline in 2016 confirmed that more caterpillars were feeding on trees across southern Michigan. Without consistent moisture in the spring, more gypsy moth caterpillars survived into the moth stage to produce larger numbers of egg masses. It was not unexpected to see growing populations of gypsy moth caterpillars this year.

gypsy moth larva

Gypsy moth caterpillar. Photo by Bill McNee, Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources, Bugwood.org.

 

Drought is the weak link for the Entomophaga maimaiga fungus and in years when this occurs gypsy moth populations begin to grow and impact landscapes and forests. Spring droughts in 2007 and 2012 led to higher population of gypsy moth the following years. The good news is that in most years we do have adequate rainfall in the spring. Many areas in southern and mid-Michigan had consistent rain this past May, allowing for good development of the fungal pathogen.

Inspect plants now for gypsy moth caterpillars and damage. Trees that lose a large percentage of leaves to gypsy moth feeding can become stressed as energy reserves are used to produce a second set of leaves. Conifers may be permanently damaged if totally defoliated, especially pines. Valuable pines and hardwoods in the landscape can be sprayed with insecticides labeled for caterpillars, or trunks of trees can be banded with a sticky material to trap caterpillars as they crawl up and down trees. This may help on individual trees that are out in the open but may have little effect on trees in the woods where insects can move between adjacent trees.

If valuable trees are infested, you can contact an arborist to spray for the caterpillars. You could also choose to let nature take its course.  In my conversation with the gentleman from Clinton County, we discussed how wet conditions in most of mid to southern Michigan this spring should lead to development of the fungus E. maimaiga. He observed that he was already seeing dead caterpillars hanging straight down, which is a symptom of the effect of the fungus on gypsy moth caterpillars. These dead caterpillars infested with E. maimaiga now become the future source of the fungus in this area protecting trees for years to come.

Michigan is a large state with different weather patterns. While one area is in a drought, another site can be experiencing heavy rains. Awareness of where spring drought occurs can provide an early indicator for possible gypsy moth outbreaks. Nature provides many clues if we pay attention.

Hope for the Ash Tree

Experts thought the ash tree was doomed. With the introduction of one tiny insect in 2002, its demise seemed inevitable. The Emerald Ash Borer specifically targets ash trees for their hosts. They lay their eggs under the bark and the larvae wreak havoc, chewing up the tree from the inside, before they emerge as adults and cause destruction to the leaves as they feed and reproduce, starting the cycle all over again.

In the wake of Dutch Elm Disease, many Michigan communities planted mostly ash to replace the dead elm trees, setting the stage. By planting mostly one species, many communities lost nearly all their trees once the beetle reached them. The insect simply flew from one tree to the next, spreading like wildfire. Any tree that was planted or naturally grew in infested areas was almost always attacked once it reached a decent size.

It seemed like a losing battle.

Yet, there may still be hope of having ash trees around.

Hope for ash

An adult ash borer within the wood tissue. Image: Gerald Wheeler

Ash borer leaves a destructive trail through wood tissue. Image: Gerald Wheeler

By Colleen Otte

Experts used to say the number of ash trees lost in Michigan was tens of millions.

Now they say hundreds of millions, according to Deb McCullough, a professor in Michigan State University’s entomology and forestry departments. Still, there’s hope for the ash’s survival.

“In a nutshell, what I found is that [ash] seems to be holding on quite well,” said Dan Kashian, who studies ash tree regeneration.

The mortality varies among species, but now the devastation has become an international epidemic, McCullough said. While some patches are worse than others, it’s hard to find a lot of live ash trees in Lower Michigan and much of the eastern and central Upper Peninsula.

The culprit is the emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire, an exotic Asian beetle discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. Adult beetles are metallic green and about 1/2-inch long. They hitched rides on ship and plane cargo originating from Asia and moving to Detroit.

“The longest history of the emerald ash borer in North America is right in the greater metro Detroit area,” McCullough said.

Kashian, an associate professor at Wayne State University, found himself in this prime location for assessing the plight of the ash.

“It’s been here longer than it’s been anywhere else, so it’s a good place to study what it’s going to look like, say, in Traverse City in 15 years or 10 years or something,” he said.

The three main ash species in Michigan are green, white and black ash. They grow in very different places, according to Kashian: black ash in swamps, green ash near rivers and white ash in the uplands.

The front of an merald ash borer head. Image: S. Ellis

Kashian is studying how the different species respond to the ash borer. So far, his team has only set up seed traps and other regeneration trackers in 17 pockets in southeastern Michigan that are almost entirely green ash.

For five years, the study quantified how many seeds fell and how many new seedlings took root.

“It looks awful because the big trees are all being killed, and in terms of it ever looking like it did before the emerald ash borer came through, it’s probably never going to happen,” Kashian said. “But the species does not – at least based on what I’ve seen – look like it’s going to disappear, which is what a lot of people were predicting.”

MSU and other leading agricultural researchers, as well as government and non-profit institutions, have created and now support the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network, a multinational effort to share the latest information about the emerald ash borer as it spreads.

The network reports that the insect is established in Windsor, Ontario, was found in Ohio in 2003, northern Indiana in 2004, northern Illinois and Maryland in 2006, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia in 2007, Wisconsin, Missouri and Virginia in the summer of 2008, Minnesota, New York, Kentucky in the spring of 2009, Iowa in the spring of 2010, Tennessee in the summer of 2010, Connecticut, Kansas, and Massachusetts in the summer of 2012, New Hampshire in the spring of 2013, North Carolina and Georgia in the summer of 2013, Colorado in the fall of 2013, New Jersey in the spring of 2014, Arkansas in the summer of 2014, Louisiana in the winter of 2015.

“We will never see emerald ash borer densities at the same level that they were originally, because the carrying capacity of those systems has dropped hugely,” McCullough said. “When the big trees die, you’re not churning out nearly as many beetles, so the populations of the ash borer are going to remain lower for the foreseeable future. Whether they will stay low enough to give some of those young trees a chance to mature, we’ll have to see.”

Kashian said he wouldn’t go as far as to say the ash and the borer have reached an equilibrium.

“But we seem to be approaching some kind of balance with the bug at this population level and the trees hanging on,” he said.

The prevailing story of other studies is that the borer will eliminate ash in Michigan as it spreads. That’s because the studies were done in mixed forests where green ash were dying and different trees grew into the space, said Kashian.

In the pure stands of ash that Kashian studied, the dying green ash only made way for new ash seedlings.

“It’s very dependent on how much ash is there,” he said. “I think the more ash that’s there, the more likely it is to survive. A lot of people think intuitively the opposite – the conventional wisdom is that if it’s a pure stand, the bugs will just go crazy and kill everything.”

In northern Michigan, big stands of white ash are a concern. Though Kashian’s team hasn’t studied white ash yet, he suspects a similar phenomenon in which the trees growing in mixed forests won’t fare as well as those in pure stands.

A parasitic wasp injects its egg in the egg of an emerald ash borer where it will hatch, grow and kill the host egg. Image: Jian Duan

While it’s still early to tell, Kashian said there is some indication that where parasitic wasps were released to control the ashborers, larger ashes survived and more of them regenerated.

It might not be ideal to release a nonnative species, he said, but if we want to maintain nice, big ash trees, it’s something we need to do.

“The most well-funded programs aren’t even talking about stopping the emerald ash borer, they’re talking about slowing it,” Kashian said. “Whether or not (bio control) is cheap is kind of a moot point because there’s not really any other choice.”

For the eight-plus billion ash trees in the forest in the U.S., it’s hard to justify treating with an insecticide, McCullough said.

“It’s just not economically or environmentally appropriate,” she said. “That means you have to look for other options, and right now we don’t have much else other than bio control.”

The Emerald Ash Borer Biological Control Production Facility in Brighton, Michigan, rears Asian wasps that fight the borer.

“We work with the federal entities and the state entities to identify infested sites within each individual state,” said Ben Slager, the manager of the lab facility.

The borer has been identified in 27 states, and the lab has three more to distribute to: Georgia, Texas and Nebraska, Slager said. The tiny, wasp-like parasitoids were first released in Michigan in 2007, and have been released in all eight of the Great Lakes states.

“One of the goals for our agency is to get parasitoids into every infested county,” he said. “Last year, (the lab) put out 1.2 million, the year before that it was 750,000 and we’ve been steadily increasing through the years.”

The Bio Control Production Facility releases three different species of the wasps and is in the process of introducing a fourth. Its production of the fourth species has been ongoing since last fall, Slager said, but while they are doing scheduled releases this season, it’s only on a limited basis since they are still getting their rearing methods and procedures down.

The benefit of the new species is that it can lay eggs in trees with thicker bark because it has a longer ovipositor.

Be Careful with Water Gardens

You see them all the time, people adding ponds and other water features to their yards or gardens. Done correctly, water gardens are a great way to attract wildlife, create habitat, and add beauty to your property.

Yet there should be caution to this tale. Your choice of plants and animals when planning these features is key. If you’re not careful, your innocent plant purchase might just take over your neighboring lake or river. Please take the proper precautions when choosing plants and animals and when in doubt, choosing native species is always the safest bet.

Learn more about keeping non-native aquatic plants and animals contained in the article below. There’s also some great information in it about the new RIPPLE project, an education program created by Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Is your water garden having a RIPPLE effect on Michigan’s waterways?

While water gardens add beauty to backyards, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with aquatic invasive species and to prevent escape.

Build water gardens away from other waterbodies to prevent escape of non-native animals and plants during flooding events. Photo credit: Paige Filice

Build water gardens away from other waterbodies to prevent escape of non-native animals and plants during flooding events. Photo credit: Paige Filice

Wildlife habitat, soothing sounds and scenic beauty are just a few of the benefits of having a backyard pond. Exotic fish such as koi can be attractive additions to your pond, and non-native ornamental plants such as water hyacinth can add beauty. But if let loose, these species can have long-lasting, detrimental effects on Michigan’s lakes and streams. Water garden fish and plants are commonly selected for their hardiness and rapid growth, but these characteristics also contribute to the species’ ability to become destructive and invasive if they escape.

Invasive water garden plants and fish can enter Michigan’s lakes and streams a variety of ways. One of the most common practices is the intentional release of unwanted pets, such as koi and goldfish. This happens most often during the breeding season when fish reproduce rapidly and in the fall when homeowners are preparing their water gardens for winter weather. While releasing unwanted fish and plants into natural waterbodies may seem humane, the consequences to the environment can be devastating. More environmentally friendly alternatives include giving to or trading with another hobbyist, environmental learning center, aquarium or zoo. Some local pet stores will take back unwanted fish and plants. Invasive fish and plants can also escape water gardens during heavy rain events if the pond overflows, so the best location for a backyard pond is well away from other waters.

Aquatic Species of Concern

One common water garden plant of particular concern is water hyacinth. While beautiful with light purple flowers and glossy leaves, it can become very invasive and is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species. It can form dense mats on the surface of the water, impeding boat traffic, clogging waterways and interfering with wildlife. Due to its free-floating nature, water hyacinth prevents sunlight from penetrating the water, reducing the growth of native submersed aquatic plants, which many aquatic organisms rely on for shelter and food. Water hyacinth was first introduced to the United States in the late 1800s from South America and has since invaded much of the southern United States. It has been found in southeastern Michigan, including Lake Erie Metropark, where it has persisted for years even though it was commonly believed to be unable to survive Michigan’s winter temperatures. When choosing plants and fish for your backyard pond, consider asking your local retailer for native species. There are many varieties of native aquatic plants that can add great beauty to backyard ponds without as many risks.

Tips to reduce the risk of invasion

Follow the RIPPLE: Reduce Invasive Pet and PLant Escapes program guidelines to prevent escapes. If you have water hyacinth, or any other potentially invasive plant or fish in your pond, and would like to get rid of it, remember to never release it into waterways. It is also important to not compost it, as the seeds can still be viable.

  • Inspect and rinse any new plants to rid them of seeds, plant fragments, snails and fish.
  • Build water gardens well away from other waters.
  • Seal aquatic plants for disposal in a plastic bag in the trash.
  • Give or trade unwanted fish or plants with another hobbyist, environmental learning center, aquarium or zoo.
  • Contact a veterinarian or pet retailer for guidance on humane disposal of animals.

The State of Michigan has laws restricting and prohibiting the sale of some organisms, including plants and fish in the water garden industry. However, it does not include all potentially harmful invasive species such as water hyacinth.

Michigan State University Extension teamed up with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to create the RIPPLE education campaign. It is used to educate Michigan retailers and residents about proper inspection and disposal techniques to keep non-native plants and animals contained and out of Michigan’s lakes and streams. To learn more about invasive species and to report sightings in the wild, visit www.misin.msu.edu.

Please Don’t Release Class Pets Into the Wild

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Above: One of the invasive species you should be looking out for, the Rusty Crayfish. This crayfish has been found in curriculum kits shipped to schools across the U.S.

 

Having a class pet, plant, or aquarium is a great teaching tool. It can teach students about life cycles, biology, responsibility, and a whole host of other life and classroom lessons.

Yet what happens to these plants and animals once the school year is over? Who takes care of them then? Many times the solutions to this issue are not very environmentally friendly. Often these animals end up being released into the local park or waterway. People may think that this is a good thing, that they’re returning them to nature, to live out the rest of their lives in the wild.

However, this isn’t usually the outcome and the release of these plants and animals may have disastrous consequences on your local environment.

The press release below is from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  It gives good tips on what to do with these plants and animals as well as information on a few invasive species you should be on the lookout for when ordering that next classroom project.

 

June 10, 2016

Contact: Joanne Foreman, 517-284-5814

Keep the teacher’s pets – and plants – from going wild this summer

Choose environmentally safe options for pet and plant disposal

As the school year wraps up, teachers around the state are packing up supplies, cleaning up classrooms and deciding what to do with classroom pets. The Michigan Invasive Species Program reminds teachers and hobbyists not to release pets, fish or aquarium plants into the wild.

Some common classroom pets and plants are considered invasive in Michigan. Infestations of rusty crayfish and Eurasian watermilfoil throughout the state may be a result of aquarium owners releasing them into local lakes or streams. The same could happen if invaders not yet confirmed to be in Michigan – including red swamp crayfish, hydrilla, or giant African snails, all popular science exhibits – are released alive back into nature.

Currently, those are among the 55 invasive species listed as prohibited or restricted in Michigan.  It is unlawful to possess, introduce, import, sell or offer these species for sale as live organisms, except under certain circumstances.

How do prohibited and restricted species get here?

Many teachers order curriculum kits, including plants and animals, from biological supply companies. These kits can have generic content labels, like “crayfish and aquatic plants,” rather than species-specific names. In such cases, teachers wouldn’t know if the species were prohibited or restricted in Michigan. Not all classroom or retail suppliers maintain updated lists of state-regulated species, so it is possible for teachers and aquarium enthusiasts to unknowingly order and receive plants, animals or fish that are not legal in Michigan.

The Department of Natural Resources has taken steps to stop the importation of invasive species through trade.

“The Great Lakes Commission, with the support of the DNR Law Enforcement Division, has an ongoing project developing a Web-crawler that looks for prohibited and restricted species for sale online,” said Steve Huff, commercial fish specialist with the DNR Law Enforcement Division. “If suppliers’ policies don’t restrict shipment of these species to Michigan, LED notifies them in writing and follows up with a phone call regarding state laws.”

However, what is available on the Web changes daily, and many pets and plants are purchased from hobbyists through chat rooms, marketplace sites and overseas exchanges. Ultimately, Huff said, it is the consumer’s responsibility to be familiar with state law to assure they are not receiving prohibited or restricted species.

What happens to classroom pets after school lets out?

In a survey conducted by Oregon State University Sea Grant, 40 percent of teachers disagreed with the practice of euthanizing classroom pets when no longer needed in the classroom. If pets and plants had not died on their own, the most common means of disposal included giving them to students or other teachers, putting them in the trash or releasing them to the wild.

However, these end-of-school year options identified in the survey are problematic if the pet or plant is an invasive species. Giving classroom pets and plants away to others places the problem in someone else’s hands and could lead to an eventual release. The trash is appropriate for dead invasive plant or animal specimens, but plant materials should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal and never composted.

What’s wrong with returning them to nature?

Even non-invasive pets and plants should not be released in the wild.  Though release seems to be a humane option, most non-native pets will not survive in Michigan’s environment due to climate, predators or the inability to find appropriate food and shelter. Pets or plants that easily adapt have the potential to become invasive – think of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades, or the invasive kudzu vine throughout the southern states.

Even if a pet or plant itself is not invasive, it can introduce diseases that affect native wildlife. In January of this year, 201 species of non-native salamanders were added to the federal list of species considered injurious to wildlife, in order to protect native salamanders in the U. S. from contracting a fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, known as Bsal or salamander chytrid. According to a news release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Bsal has caused major die-offs of salamanders in Europe and poses a threat to U.S. native salamander populations. The fungus is not yet known to be found in the United States.”

In 2007, concern about the spread of fish disease prompted Michigan to limit the release of both native and non-native live fish into Michigan waters. To prevent the spread of viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, Fisheries Order 245-16  (recently revised) makes it illegal to place a live fish in Michigan public waters without a permit, except in certain circumstances including releasing a freshly caught fish into the body of water where it was caught.

Best practices for pet and plant disposal

A new campaign in Michigan aims to Reduce Invasive Pet and Plant Escapes. The RIPPLE project, co-sponsored by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Michigan State University Extension, aims at educating both consumers and retailers about proper containment and disposal methods for plants and animals associated with the pond and pet store industries. Helpful tips advise to:

  • Properly dispose of all plant materials removed from ponds, water gardens or aquariums. Seal plant materials in a plastic bag and place them in the trash, not the compost pile.
  • Give or trade unwanted pets and plants with another hobbyist, environmental learning center, aquarium or zoo.
  • Contact a veterinarian or pet retailer for guidance on humane disposal of animals.
  • If you suspect you may have received a prohibited or restricted plant species in a shipment, contact MDARD immediately at 1-800-292-3939 or MDA-info@michigan.gov.
  • If you suspect you may have received a prohibited or restricted fish, mollusk or crustacean in a shipment, contact Seth Herbst at DNR, 517-284-5841 or herbsts@michigan.gov.

More information about RIPPLE and Michigan’s prohibited and restricted species is available on Michigan’s invasive species website www.michigan.gov/invasivespecies.

/Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Suggested captions for photos follow.

Red swamp crayfish:  Red swamp crayfish have been found in classroom curriculum kits shipped across the U.S. Photo courtesy Chris Taylor, Illinois History Survey, Bugwood.org.

Giant African snail:  Giant African snail invasions in Florida and Hawaii may have originated from illegal importation of the snails as pets. Photo courtesy Andrew Dersken, USDA APHIS, Bugwood.org./


The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.