Invasive Species As Major Environmental Threat

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The remains of Jill Scott, a 7 year old girl, were found last week by the tree line of a farm in texas. She had been dismembered and partially devoured. Jill Scott was the victim of feral hogs that had invaded the west and southwest. Invasive species such as the Burmese Python, European Starling, Lionfish, and the Feral Hogs, have become a major environmental threat over the past few years. They have continued to harm our ecosystems and environments, and in some cases, they have been a threat to us humans physically as well. These invasive species should be stopped to prevent more damages since they are the most harmful and damaging environmental threat as they destroy environments, habitats, and they lead to the decline of other species, as well as harm us humans brutally. All the Starlings in North America originally came from Europe. They were released in New York in 1890 and 1891 by an individual who wanted America to have every type of bird in Shakespeare’s plays. After many tries the first initial set of birds established themselves and the population took off. They are black birds with short tails, long and printed bills, and triangular wings. Starlings nest in holes or cavities just about anywhere, including tree cavities, birdhouses, and holes in buildings or cliff faces. Females lay about 7 eggs which hatch after 11 to 13 days of incubation. The young birds leave the nest when they are about 21 days old. Both of the parents help build the nest, incubate the eggs, and feed the hatchlings. Sometimes two batches of eggs are laid per season, but most of the production is from the first brood fledged. Although these birds are not always migratory, some will migrate up to several hundred miles, while some others chose to remain in the same area throughout the year. Young starlings are more likely to migrate than adults. They tend to migrate farther. Some female starlings who were not successful in getting a mate early in the mating season starlings developed a parasitic tactic. They would attempt to lay their eggs inside the nest of another female (allaboutbirds).

European starlings may be the most common nuisance bird species in America. The release of 60 birds in Europe to New England in 1890 caused a major environmental disaster within about a century. The population of these birds is estimated to be somewhere between 750 million to a billion. Having such a huge population makes it possible to cause many millions of dollars worth of damages yearly just including the damages to agricultural operations. In about a weeks time, Starlings in flocks of about 4000 make it possible to cause huge amounts of damage to revenue in large vineyards as they decimate blueberries, cherries , and even apples. These flocks also attract Black Birds and Cow Birds. Although they are similar in size and appearance, they are not the same species, but all three of them prefer flying in large flocks to prevent being hunted. European starlings are introduced species, being introduced species, they are exempt from the Migratory Bird Treaty act. In 2008 the US government poisoned, shot, and trapped 1.7 million of these birds, which is the most out of any nuisance species (falconforce). Even after taking direct action from the government in order to decrease the population of the starlings, just a small amount of them could be exterminated.

Even though starlings are not a huge threat to anything individually, when they are together with their frightening numbers they can cause major damage to anything. Their droppings can cause components of steel buildings to degrade which will lead to catastrophic structural damage. You would think that such small animals could not actually harm us humans, however they do have their own way of doing so. These creatures are known for their bird strikes of aircrafts which have caused major damages to the aircraft as well as at least one crash with fatalities (pestworld). Commercial aircraft have no defense mechanisms against such attacks from these nuisance species, so these issues won’t decrease but increase as the birds population continues to increase.

There are a couple of methods that we can follow to control these pest. Exclusion is one of these methods. It involves a slight modification which is to change the ledge angle to 45 degrees and the installation of plastic netting on parts of buildings, which denies starlings access to roosting sites. Sanitation is also necessary because it reduces feeding sites and temporary water sources. Homeowners should keep gutters clean to prevent water pooling and trash covered in a sealed receptacle. Frightening is an effective method for dispersing starlings from roosts, small-scale fruit crops, and some other troublesome sites. It is useful around livestock operations that have warm temperatures all year round, and also in places where major concentrations of wintering starlings exist. In the center states, starlings are found at livestock facilities primarily during cold winter months when snow covers natural food sources. Around this time, baiting and other techniques are generally more effective than frightening. However, frightening starlings may cause birds to travel to other livestock facilities, a negative point that should be considered if disease transfer is a concern.

Another method of controlling and managing these birds involves the use of sound devices such as noise-making devices, which may be effective in dispersing starlings before they establish territory. Some organizations and groups such as Falcon Force, train falcons to hunt and suppress the species. As they cause over $1 billion of annual damage to the agricultural industry alone, they became a very important target for this organization. Their trained falcons are capable of managing thousands of starlings while they travel in large flocks. They modify nuisance bird behavior with the help of experienced Falcons, which is crucial to controlling these large flocks (falconforce).

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We must get rid of these pest because they further negatively impact us humans as they not only destroy our crops, degrade our buildings infrastructures, and cause deadly plane crashes, but they are also major medical concern. These starlings are a medical concern because more than 25 diseases and ectoparasites have been associated with them, their nests and droppings. These diseases include encephalitis, histoplasmosis, Newcastle disease, chlamydiosis and salmonellosis. The ectoparasites include primarily mite species which can bite humans or infest domestic animals, causing extreme discomfort (pestworld). Starlings are also responsible for passing disease from one livestock facility to another. This greatly affects to livestock producers. Multiple test have shown that the transmissible gastroenteritis virus can pass through the digestive tract of a starling and be infectious in the starling feces. These diseases and ectoparasites have the ability to harm us humans directly, and with such a huge population that is increasing rapidly, the chances to come in contact to one or a few of these medical concerns also increases. The Burmese python, being native to southeast asia, was taken to the United States as pet trades. Burmese pythons are one of the longest snakes in the world. Other than invading the Everglades, they are known for the way they catch and eat their preys. The snake uses sharp backwards pointing teeth to snatch its prey, as it then wraps its body around the animal, squeezing a harder with each breath until the animal suffocates. Elastic ligaments in their jaws give these ferocious predators the ability to swallow animals up to four or even five times as wide as their head. Burmese pythons tend to spend the same time on the ground and in the trees when they are young. As they grow heavier and longer they tend to stay on the ground because the trees can’t hold their huge bodies anymore. They are also excellent swimmers and can stay submerged up to 30 minutes, which makes them very dangerous not just on land but also on water. Female pythons can lay up to 100 eggs per batch. They proceed to incubate them for about three months. To make sure that the eggs are kept warm, they contract, or shiver, their muscles. When the eggs hatch they use their egg tooth to break out of their egg and the mother proceeds leaves. The newborn baby python will remain inside the egg until it finishes shedding its first skin, then it will hunt for its first food alone.

Their populations began to multiply from animals who were released or animals who had escaped from either captivity or from their owners. The python feeds on native species, some being endangered such as the Neotoma floridana smalli and the Key Largo woodrat. They also tend to compete with threatened native species like the indigo snake. Although these pythons don’t have a reputation of eating humans, they do eat just about any other kind of animal. They wield the ability to devour a huge range of wildlife animals from tiny songbirds to deer and alligators up to 7 feet long. The Everglades native predators struggle to compete with the burmese python for food, habitat, and space. The population of several animals in South Florida has drastically declined due to the overwhelming dominance of the burmese python. The natives of South Florida have noticed this due to a decline in the native animals that are used for production of food or fabric. Burmese pythons further impact our economy in various ways. These pythons generate costs that come from damage to near property, equipment, habitat, crops and major companies that rely on tourist or hunting. These undeniable impacts may multiply or pile on to of each other. For instance, the cost of the destructive activity costs associated with these animals in a natural area, is measured by the number of acres damaged at the restoration price per acre. These damages multiply if the damage also lowers tourism, then the income generated from tourism is also lowered or in some cases lost. Other main impacts include the consumption of crops, other livestock, wildlife species and companion animals such as dogs. Just like the European starling I previously mentioned in section, this python are related in the spread of diseases that are harmful to numeros things including us humans. They spread pathogens that cause mortality or illness in humans, domesticated animals, livestock necessary to farmers and also wildlife.

Florida has resorted to launching a one month “Python Challenge” that grants permission for anyone older than 18 to hunt the snakes on the state lands. The purpose of this mission is to raise public awareness about invasive species and how it to threatens Florida’s ecosystem and will continue to do so if not controlled. About 1000 people signed up from 20 different states to harvest the pythons. Florida is issuing a special temporary permit to snake hunters as well as offering large cash prizes for the most pythons killed as well as the most captured and the longest python. This event to capture and kill the species invading the Everglades begun in January. The person to kill or capture the most in 30 days gets a $1,500 prize, while the person who gets the longest python will receive $1,000. I think that the person who gets the longest python should receive the larger prize knowing that those huge pythons can contain about 90 eggs. What sets this invasive species apart from the rest is its ability to successfully hunt every creature in its area. What helps the python do this is their camouflaging capabilities which, apart from being low to the ground, makes them exceptionally difficult to capture or for preys to notice them. There have been efforts to combat this by using dogs and thermal energy remote sensing by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). These pythons are such a common issue in Florida that there are procedures to follow when they encounter one. Upon encounter, you are to dial 1-88-IVE-GOT1. As for those who live near areas that may be around these pythons, it is suggested that excess debris is removed and for landscaping to be maintained in order to un-attract the pythons or to limit the movements. Feral swine are basically the same species as pigs that are found on farms. These hogs are descendants of escaped or released pigs. As people fled for safety while the fight for Texas independence was going on, many pigs escaped or were released. It was not until the 1800s when hostilities between the United States and Mexico ended that farmers once again began bringing the animals back into Texas. The livestock included hogs that ranged freely. Plenty of hogs escaped, starting the feral population in the wild. Feral swine are called by a wide variety of names including wild boar, wild hog, razorback, and Russian or Eurasian boar. They name they go by doesnt change the fact that these pigs are a dangerous, destructive, invasive species. In the early 1500s, Feral swine were brought to the US by early explorers and settlers primarily as a source of food. In those times, food wasn’t as easy to come by like it is now so if you didn’t produce your own from livestock, then you would either have to be rich or eat the bare minimum you could buy. The range of this destructive species is rapidly expanding and its populations are rising across the nation. These pigs often look very similar to domestic hogs, but are they are thinner because instead of being raised for the purpose of selling their meat, they are in the wild eating what they find. Due to their extensive crossbreeding of their ancestors, feral swine have many variations in color and coat pattern. Some are found to have combinations of white, black, brown, and red coats. The young pigs are often striped or spotted, but lose this abnormal coloration as they grow older. These hogs breed at about eight to ten months of age, but if they are being well fed, the are about to breed at just 6 months of age. Out of all species on this planet, the female hog is one of the few to be known to eat the young piglets. Young hogs are frequently born throughout the year with the most being born in the early spring. They are accurately born with a one to one male to female sex ratio.

Feral swine destroy crops by eating them or by their rooting, trampling, and wallowing activities. The crops in the fields such as sugar cane, corn, wheat, oats, peanuts, and rice are commonly a target of feral swine. Farmers also tend to receive major damage to vegetable and fruit crops such as lettuce, melons, and pumpkins. As pigs continuously, they wreak nothing but havoc on the lands they inhabit. Wild pigs cause at least $1.5 billion in damages and control costs each year, according to a 2007 survey, mostly to agriculture(scientificamerican). Not only can they damage pasture grasses and productive plant species, but they also often encourage the growth of undesired weed species. In most cases, diseases from wild hogs do not pose a significant threat to us humans. However, most diseases are be transmitted to livestock and wildlife. Producers are forced to keep all livestock vaccinated, which cost a significant amount, especially where large feral hog populations are concentrated. Some diseases of wild hogs include but are not limited to pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, tularemia, hog cholera, foot and mouth disease, and anthrax. These diseases keep piling up and also include parasites such as kidney worms, stomach worms, roundworms and whipworms. Liver flukes and trichinosis are also found in these wild boars. Even external parasites include dog ticks, fleas and hog lice are added to the list of medical dangers that these hogs present(tpwd.texas). These viral diseases and bacteria can contaminate and infect us humans as well our domesticated animals, let it be our dogs that we play with or the cows we use for meat and milk. These swine further impact us humans with rooting and wallowing activity increases erosion, this mostly occurs along waterways and in wetlands. This rooting and trampling are known to limit water infiltration and nutrient cycling. In large groups, hogs have the ability to deposit significant amounts of fecal material in areas, contaminating water sources, resulting in increased disease and contamination risks for humans, wildlife, and the much needed livestock. Feral hog populations can be managed by lethal or nonlethal methods. Nonlethal methods such as installing fencing to keep out pigs, using trained guard animals to protect livestock, and vaccinating animals to prevent diseases from spreading. Although in some situations nonlethal methods are the most appropriate and effective, in many cases they are not a good option, either they do not work well or are too expensive. Resulting in the common use of lethal methods. Such methods include but are not limited to trapping, shooting, and hunting with dogs. As of now, there are no toxicants registered for use on these wild hogs in the United States, so poisoning is not yet an option.

The major focus of this paper was to provide information to those who need it, about the harsh reality of the world we live in. We humans have made countless mistakes. One of the most environmentally damaging mistake has been to cause species to move and wreak havoc on on other species who have the right to reside where they do. These invasive species should be stopped to prevent more damages as they not only destroy environments, habitats, but they also lead to the decline of other species as well as raise medical concerns for us humans. The evidence i found led me to the conclusion that even though there are some people trying to make a change for the better of our ecosystems, nothing will actually change if every human is aware of this issue. Nothing will change because we are ignorant and refuse to acknowledge our mistakes, especially if we don’t see that it affects us directly. For this exact reason, this paper will not only inform but open the eyes of those of us who are not aware of how much of a threat this subject is to us humans directly. In the near future, I hope to see a clear change in the management of this threat. I hope that people open their minds and realize how much their actions can impact not just themselves, but also everything around them, literally.

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