Ok, we know… this is a blog about insects and teaching. Not aliens. Not spaceships. But when we drove across the country we HAD to stop in Roswell at the International UFO Museum and Research Center. We stared at the weird spaceship sculptures made of hubcaps hanging from the ceiling, cringed at some of the local art and read some old transcripts of UFO sightings. We were most impressed with the beautiful images of the planets and the solar system. What can we say… we’re nerds.
However, the museum did get us thinking about insects – naturally. Insects are sort of alien to us; we talk about this concept all the time when we teach about invertebrates. And ‘alien’ is a term used to describe invasive species. Insects and spiders that have been transported from a different environment can often take over a new habitat, throwing the ecosystem off balance. These situations are incredibly dangerous because native species can be displaced and their food sources can be ravaged. It’s very difficult to control invasive pest populations because of a lack of understanding about their specific biologies and the absence of native predators. Because some insects reproduce so quickly, often having many generations in a year, their populations can explode in a very short time. A couple of classic insect invaders? Gypsy moths, the emerald ash borer and the Asian long horned beetle are just a few of the thousands of invasive species now being monitored around the country.
Insect introduction can take place in many ways. They can be shipped in plants and cargo, escape from research facilities, brought in by collectors or unscrupulous pet traders or introduced on purpose to control other pests. The gypsy moth was introduced in the 1860’s by a dude who wanted to get into silk production. They escaped his backyard rearing cages and according to the USDA, they cause $30 million dollars a year in damage. The emerald ash borer possibly made its first appearance in the wood of packing crates in 2002. The Asian long-horn beetle came to us in 1996 from solid wood packaging. Tens of millions from them too.
The Bug Chicks love all arthropods, but we love them in their natural habitat. We take great care to make sure we don’t inadvertently introduce insects into new territory when we collect and film.
What are some invasives where you live?