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January 12, 2018 50 mins

Invasive species can mean a lot of things, from fungus to feral pigs and European starlings to kudzu vines. Basically, it's anything brought to a place, either by humans or nature, that didn't originate there. They aren't always a problem, but many times they can wreak havoc on the local ecosystem. Learn all about these invaders today.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from House Stuff Works
dot com. Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark.
There's childs of You Bryant, There's Jerry Do Do Do
Do Do Do do do this Stuff You Should Know
Action Edition. I gotta laugh out of Jerry, at least giggle.

I got a a derisive snort. How about that. That's
what it was. How you doing, I'm great. Well, I'm
concerned about the Earth. You're concerned about the Earth. Yes,
more than usual? Yes, because of this podcast? Yes, okay, yeah. Man.
So before we get started, you've heard of the anthroposcene, right, Uh?

I know you have. You definitely have. We've certainly mentioned
it before on the episode or on the podcast. So
there's this eight right now over whether we've entered a
new geological age from uh, the one to the Anthropocene? Right. Um.

I really wish I could remember what the current one
is because people are going to write it and be like,
it's this a million times over, which thank you everybody
for writing out. I mean to sound ungrateful, um, But
the the idea is that we've entered this period. Some
people place it starting at the Industrial Revolution, a lot
of people place it more at nine fifty, when there

was apparently a huge spike in the presence of humanity
from radioactivity, plastics, all this stuff in the environment as
a whole. So where our presence has so muddied the
geological record that we've effectively come up with a new age,

a new geological age, the Anthropocene, the age of of humans. Right.
So one of the things, one of the factors that
people point to that suggests that we're we're changing the
natural geological record, thank you, Charles so Um. The the

idea that we we are altering what the natural course
of the Holocene, the of course it would have taken
had humans never been around. One of the ways we're
doing that is by shuffling species from one environment to another,
from one ecosystem to another where they've never been before,
probably never would have ended up, at least not in

any of our lifetimes. Um. And that they are altering
those ecosystems in radical new ways such that when those
things fossilized, those ecosystems become fossilized and can be studied,
you know, hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Hence
archaeologists would be pretty puzzled by what they were finding. Yeah,

and that's the basis of the idea that we should
be calling this the anthropasy. Now I'm scared. That was
my goal. Well done, thank you all right. So what
we're talking about is invasive species UM. And I'm surprised
we hadn't done this one. I was too. I went
back and double checked and me to I don't And

I remembered what episode. I remember it was the Beagle Brigade. Oh,
we talked a lot about invasive species and the Beagle
Brigade IM and we may have even said we should
do one on that. So if so, wish fulfilled. Uh So,
what we're talking about is invasive species. This is um.
This can be any type of It is not necessarily

a plant or just an animal. It could be seeds,
it could be eggs, it could be it can even
be a disease, right or yeah, pathogen, a past uh
predator or a plant just it could be anything. Yeah,
any kind of any kind of living organism that's not
native to a singular or a particular ecosystem. Right. But

and the house to Works article kind of leaves it
at that. But the UM National Wildlife Federation article that
you found, I think really kind of drives home that
there's like an extra couple factors involved, right, Yeah, because
you can have a non native species that we actually
kind of like like European honey bees. There are non

native species here in the United States, but we're crazy
for the pollinating they do, right, and the honey that
they make. Rice is not a native um crop here
in the United States, but people people love rice, so
there are just being non native isn't enough. It has
to actually harm the ecosystem that it's not native to

and has been introduced to in some ways, shape or form.
So it's it's a non native species that's causing harm
either directly or indirectly or both to this new ecosystem.
It's it's been introduced to. That's an invasive species, right.
And it's not just do we grow rice in the
United States? Sure, okay uh. And it doesn't have to

be from another country. It can. Like we said, it's
an ecosystem, so it could be something from one area
of the United States to another area of the United States,
or from Mexico to the United States. Right, Like trout
from the Great Lakes, that's their natural habitats, so they're fine,
but you take that same trout and put it in
I think the example given was the Yellowstone River, and

they're now competing for habitat and food with the local trout.
That's an invasive species, right. They come in all shapes
and sizes. As our very own article says, uh, they're
different names for him. God loves them all. Like some
people might say exotic pests or a non indigenous species,

alien species, stuff like that, but invasive species is kind
of I think that's the go to these days. Sure,
that's the one you you here starting in the nineties.
Actually that's It's funny, like all of the eco stuff
that we know about, from recycling to invasive species, that
all was like born in the nineties, you know what
I mean. Bill Clinton, Uh, I think he wanted to

think he invented that name, but he went h. I
think he gave it. Gave him, he gave it the stamp.
What did he say though, I think he said nailed it. Yeah.
He could have been talking about any number of things
or people right there, but in that case he was
talking specifically about Executive Order one three one one two,

where the term invasive species was first defined by the
United States government. And the reason that they did this,
the reason that they were defining invasive species because around
about that time, the world was really waking up to
the fact that if you take as species of plant, animal, bacteria, pathogen, whatever,

and you put it into a place, a new ecosystem
where it has no predators, it's going to create havoc
for the the the ecosystem as it was before. Yeah,
I mean, that's kind of one of the keys here
is that, um, generally they will cause a lot of harm,
maybe to the environment, maybe to the economy, maybe two people,

maybe one, two or all three of those. Uh. And
another key aspect of the invasive species is that it's
pretty hard, if not impossible, sometimes to contain an eradicate. Yeah.
I think I get this impression from researching this Chuck
that like the second wave of waking up to invasive

species realizing like they're never going to go away. Now
they're done. It's done. Like the first wave, you don't
notice it's already happening. Right by the time we do notice,
it's too late. And then now we're realizing like, okay,
well we can we can handle this. It might be
tough and now I think we're finding now we like it. Well,
now you can handle it. You just can't eradicate them.

One of the big problems is like if you if
you say, develop a poison that kills some you know,
non some invasive fish that was introduced, right, say carp um,
you're going to kill the other fish in the area too,
or some of the other sea life or something like that.
So there's just not really any way you can target

these things short of shooting each one of them. And
you're gonna shoot a plant because they'll think you're crazy,
they'll lock you up for that, So don't even try it.
And here's the deal is this. This is not a
new phenomenon. This nature has been doing this for years
on its own in various ways. Whether it's uh leaping

over the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand, or
over a channel of water like or over a mountain range.
It happens. But generally bodies of water and mountain ranges
and deserts and all these other geological features helped to
stop this stuff. It's really humans that are doing most

of this, uh, not necessarily on purpose, but sometimes on purpose.
Um as we will see. But sometimes it's just like
it's in the ballast water of a ship, or it's
in uh there's an insect in the wood of UH,
or it's impacking material, it's in the wood of the
what are those things called the crates the palettes, Yeah, palettes,

shipping pallets, and all of a sudden it leaps out
on the other side of the world and you have
an issue to the tune of fifty thousand estimated non
native species in the United States alone. Yeah, I was
looking that up. That's pretty That's one of those things
we always like give UM, you know, evidence or not evidence,

UM advice if you see something all over the place,
like double check it. You know, no, I think it
is a real number is from so there's no telling
is we're probably at fifty thousand and like five hundred now,
But it was from a guy named pim Intell, who
is a world famous ecologist. No, pim Intell, he's from Cornell.

I don't know if he's still at Cornell. But the
thing that this leaves out, though it's fifty thousand non
native species, but that same study from ninety nine found
that UM about forty three hundred of them could be
considered invasive. Okay, that that's what was. One of the
other ones are like the honeybe where we're like sweet
sure or rice don't don't forget rice? Uh? And like

I said, sometimes in the water, but ships hull sometimes
uh in this would and sometimes on purpose, like we said,
like when the Burmese python found its way to Florida. Dude,
that was no accident. Are you have you looked up
Burmese python Everglades recently? Yes? Did they get so big
down there? And did you see the one that had

burst itself to death eating an alligator? What? No? But
I did see the alligator and the python fighting on
a golf course. That's amazing. That is amazing. That makes
me glad to be alive to see something like that.
You know. Well, here's the deal. While we're on that
um earlier that well, all right, more than two thousand

of these pythons have been removed. Two thousand have been
removed since two thousand two, when it was just I guess,
recreational activity. But starting in March of last year, Florida
started sanctioning python hunters, and a thousand dudes applied. They accepted,

So we'll pay you minimum wage, will literally pay you
eight bucks an hour or I think that was a
minimum wage at the time to hunt pythons. And they're
all like done right, and they started hunting pythons. They've
caught seven hundred and forty three since March of two
thousand seventeen and uh earlier this year or I'm sorry,

uh late last year in December. The dude Jason Leon
did you see that one that he caught now seventeen
ft long, a hundred and thirty three pound Burmese python. Uh.
And the reason why these are a big deal just,
you know, aside from just sheer terror. Uh, is there

eating furry creatures? A lot of them. I saw that
some populations down in the Everglades of Um types of deer, rabbits, um,
a lot of creatures that you know and love, have
gone down by up to nine in some areas because
of the Python University of Florida. And I won't say

what everyone wants me to say. Good for you man. Yeah,
that's like, how how can you be you know, possibly
the national champs and and throw shade at anybody below you?
You know, So the Ovius in Florida and gains Well
did a project they released this makes me so sad.
They released ninety five rabbits uh into the Everglades and

they these were all tracked. And it's not like when
these rabbits didn't turn up a year later and there
we can't find them. I guess snakes eate them. They
know that snakes eate them, so snakes did. A year later,
seventy seven percent of these rabbits were eaten and dead
from these pythons. Wow, that's a problem. That is a

sad study. It is. Can you imagine like opening that
was crates and being like all right, free, you live
your new life. It's an adventure. Oh man, it's so sad.
So that's just one example of the most horrific uh.
And that's not one that's like costing two hundred billion

dollars in damage a year. But that is an estimate
from professor at Cornell. That's the same one Pimentel. Yeah,
okay um, that's the estimate from him that it's costing
the United States between a hundred and two hundred billion
dollars a year in damage from all these invasive species problems. Yeah,
that's a lot of dough. It really is. And the

Burmese python is is a good example also of people
just releasing like a pet that you don't want anymore.
That's probably how they are established. That's absolutely how it
was established. There's other there's another there's a lizard called
the tagu which is a big problem in all of
Florida apparently as well. Um they're just a huge lizard
that were originally pets and we're released and now leave

established a feral population in Florida. And they apparently will
eat your cat, they've been known to do that. Will
um storm your house, They'll come into your house. It's
just a bad jam right. There's also the Neutria swamp rats,
which were originally grown for their fur in in the
in Louisiana. They use rat fur apparently in Louisiana or

to keep warm, and um that when the rat fur
industry went under in the thirties, I think they released
these things into the swamps. And then last most recently,
feral hogs were imported so that they could hunt them
and there's a huge population that's wrecking there. The ecosystems
they've been introduced to. So a lot of times humans

are lunkheads when it comes to shuffling animals and ecosystems
where they're they're not native. That snakes too big, put
it behind the house, right right, then let a bunch
of rabbits loose and see what happens. He wins, snake winds.
Snake winds. To take a break. Yeah, I was gonna

say the same thing. Well, actually quickly before we take
a break, I talked about how much it was costing
the U. S. Department of Interior spending about a hundred
million bucks or more a year trying to fight this
in various ways, all to very little success. All right,
so now with that stat we will we will take

a break. So, Chuck, we talked about people releasing um

animals purposefully, and you mentioned some other ways. But one
of the things that that gets me is ballast water, Like,
how is this allowed to go on where a ship
will take on water to balance out its cargo load,
because you know, different cargo is going away different, It's
gonna be laid out differently, so you need new ballasts

every time to to balance it out, which makes sense,
But surely there can be some other technology because you're
you're like in Eastern Europe picking up a bunch of
water to balance your your ship out and that that
cargo is bound for Detroit. So you enter the Great
Lakes and you're like, oh, well, waters, water, I'll just

release it here once I unload my cargo. And whatever
animals you picked up in Eastern Europe now live in
the Great Lakes. And this actually happened with the zebra muscle,
which is a huge, huge problem in the Great Lakes now,
the zebra muscle and the quagga muscle, Yeah, which apparently
are almost the same thing. Uh, and how they act

there from Eastern Europe and they're small, and that's exactly
how they ended up in the Great Lakes, like you said,
and they boy talked about spreading are there, Like how
many are these? Like a trillion? A trillion at least.
The reason why it is like a quagga will live
or quagga or zebra muscle will live about five years

and the female in that time will produce five million eggs.
There's ten trillion of them, a hundred that's so many muscles,
a hundred thousand of those that of those eggs will
reach adulthood, and so the offspring of one single muscle
will produce about half a billion adult offspring, So yeah,

ten trillion is a pretty reasonable number. And they just
entered the Great Lakes in the I think the nineteen eighties,
so just within what forty years gosh, can you believe
the eighties or like forty years ago were coming up
on it? Um? It doesn't seem that long ago to me,
but man, that's crazy. Well, and the problem with these

is you're like, wait, wait, I'm reminiscing stuff. All right,
I'm done. The problem with these is like, big deal.
There are these tiny little muscles, but they are blanketing
the bottom of the Great Lakes. Uh. And they're eating
plankton because they love to eat plankton, which makes the
water nice and clear. Everyone's like, look, how shimmery like
Michigan is. Have you seen pictures of like Michigan recently?

It looks like the Caribbean, really white sand, beautiful sea
through like turquoise water. It's good, people, gorgeous. No, it
looks really amazing. But ultimately, no, it's not healthy because,
like you were saying, they eat all the plankton that's
supposed to be on top and on the bottom two
and the the sunlight can penetrate all the way to

the bottom, causing algae blooms, deadly algae blooms. I I
just just happened to run across an article yesterday, Chuck,
and I und stood why I was seeing what I
was seeing. But the article was about how the Lake
Michigan has become so clear that you can see shipwrecks
on the bottom of the lake from the air. If

you're flying over it, you can clearly see shipwrecks. And
the reason why is because the zebra muscles have doubled
the clarity of the water since the nineteen eighties. Well,
and not only is it just the plankton, but they're
eating the plankton. Is is causing salmon to go hungry whitefish. Um, so,
if you you know, it's just it's wrecking the ecosystem

down there, right, thank you. In Europe that's say, yeah, well,
thank you ship captain who took on that water as ballast.
Another ballast story I ran across too was um uh,
fire ants the worst thing in humanity, right, that's pretty bad.
Fire Ants are native to South America, and they think

that they stowed away on dirt that was scooped up
as ship's ballast and released in New Orleans. Really yeah,
and like the thirties or forties, but that's where the
fire ends came from. They shouldn't be here. Didn't that
make them even worse? Hate those things? So, um, here's

another one. You want to talk about the Asian carp Sure,
So in the nineties seventies, and I think like in Arkansas,
there were some u some farmers, fish farmers that is,
who said, uh, let's get some of these Asian carp
in here to filter the water. And they did. It

sounded identical what the researchers from University of Florida sounded
like in my hat, right, and they all sounded like
Bill Clinton, right, who was from Arkansas. Right. So Asian
carp were introduced. I guess they did a pretty good
job of filtering the pond water. But then they started spreading.
And that's the deal is is you know, like with

the the zebra muscle, you know, they get in these
waterways like in Chicago, these man made waterways that that
said basically like expressways where they get in the Mississippi
River and it just it's like all right, here, here
we go. Rest of the country. Yeah, and so Asian carp. Uh,

it's a it's sort of a catch all name for
a bunch of species of carp from Southeast Asia. But
here's their problem is they're very dense. They consume about
of their body weight each day in plankton. They can
be as big as a hundred pounds, which is very
large for a for a fish, if you haven't noticed.

And uh, they're all over the place now. They went
up the Illinois River. Uh, they are almost or maybe
even are invading the Great Lakes now. Is that they
didn't have enough problems. And there are another one. They
lay about a half a million eggs each time they spawn,
and they eat a lot of plankton. And there's this
guy um that they're a good example because they're they're

so thoroughly crowd out um the rest of the ecosystem,
for the rest of the animals in the ecosystem that
it actually like kind of recks the whole ecosystem. They're
they're an example of like a UM grade three or
level three I think you call it level level three

invasive species. Right, there's this dude, he is he is
a marine biologist, and I don't know if you could
tell or not. But I'm stalling while I look for
his name. Is it coming across everybody? Um, so I
cannot find the dude's name. Anyway, you don't have it either.

Well he came up with Okay, doctor doctor Jivago came
up with these basically four levels of of impact that
an invasive species can have on bio diversity in an ecosystem.
And the first level is basically like, they're just a
new species. They're not doing anything. You could even make
a case that it's it's a good thing that they're

there now because they've improved or increased the bio diversity
of the habitat right. So level one is they're just
they're nothing bad has happened yet. Level two is when
they start to have a an effect on the on
the ecosystem in some very specific way. And doctors Javago

gives this really great example of the eastern North American
gray squirrel, which was inexplicably introduced in eighteen seventy six
to England and since then it is basically out competed
the native red squirrel there um. But it's just the
native red squirrel that's been affected. The rest of the

ecosystem is basically the same as if the North American
squirrel had never showed up. It's just the red squirrel
who are trying to go around and tell everybody like,
doesn't it suck? The North American squirrels are here, and
it's like, oh, it's fine with me, I don't care.
And the red squirrel just can't get any kind of
ally in this. That's leve two. Shall I continue? Please?

Level three is where the species become so dominant, spreads
so fast, so wide, reproduces so quickly and so massively
that they begin to impact the entire ecosystem as a whole. Right,
we'll talk about that in a second. And then the
fourth level is where they have upset the ecosystem that

they are not native to, but have established themselves in
so thoroughly that it now impacts other ecosystems, either nearby
or that are somehow connected to that ecosystem. And then
level five is when you wake up covered in a
thundred squirrels. Right, I'll just quietly staring at you. Can
you imagine, No, have you ever seen those black squirrels

in Brooklyn? Yes, I've seen them in like Toronto. Usually DC. Yeah,
they're pretty cool. They're tough guys too. They'll like, yeah,
they'll they'll like, they'll charge you. They don't take any
guff No. But see, if you brought some to Georgia,
it could be bad for the squirrels here because it's

a non native species, even though it's in the same country. Yeah,
but man, we've got so many squirrels in Atlanta. I
wouldn't mind seeing a few of those go. And I
love all furry things. Well, you know how I feel
about squirrels. Well, that's why it's gonna haunt your dreams,
waking up being covered by a hundred squirrels. It'd be more.
It would be worse if I had a dream where

a hundred squirrels covered my bird feeder. That's worse to me.
I'd rather them cover me, cover me instead leave my
bird feeder alone. They would be so happy to chow
down on you. The other little tails would be all flitty.
They would be so excited. They'd say, this is a
long time coming. Josh. It'd stores some of you for
the winter and their haunches. But then they'd forget except

for about a third of me. Where they put it
exactly stupid squirrels. Uh so those are the four levels.
We're kidding about the fifth. And I feel bad for
Dr Chivago because what that dude listens and he's like, Oh,
they're gonna say my name, yeah, doctor Chivago, or maybe
he's gonna start going by that maybe, So we just

changed that dude his life. Alright. So, uh, we talked
a little bit about how some of these can affect
things like eating plankton um. What are some of the
other uh deleterious effects deletrious So there's well, I mean
you can basically categorize the effects that these things have
in two categories. There's direct and indirect ones. Right. So

direct would be like, if you like, let's say those
Asian carp eat um, the eggs of the other fish
that's competing with that would be a direct impact that
would make the other fish very unhappy, right. Um. They
could also be a bug that carries a disease that
hills trees like um, I can't remember what bug carries,

like Dutch elm disease, but there's there's bugs that carry
diseases that kill treats that's directly impacting the trees in
the ecosystem. Then there's like indirect ones too, right, So
like let's say you have like a grass that grows
really well and its new habitat and non native grass
so much so that it outcompetes the other grasses. Well,

this new grass is really good at growing in this ecosystem,
but it's terrible as far as like nutrient density is concerned,
and it's choked. The rest of the grass is out,
which means that the sweet little deer and the rabbits
that are about to be eaten by snakes don't have
those grasses to eat anymore, and they can't eat the
new grass. That's an indirect impact. So suddenly the populations

of these higher animals are going to thin out, either
because they're gonna die off, they don't reproduce as fast,
or they just move um. So that's an indirect impact
act of of an ecosystem. Or like that cocoon grass, uh,
which is the one here in the southeast, it's the
Asian plant. Like that one does the one thing you're
talking about no food value for the wildlife, but it

also burns really hot and fast, more so than native grasses.
So it's like it has this dormant danger of being
a wildfire hazard. Right, yeah, it's it's another one called
cheatweed has the same thing, and it's it's altered the
wildfire cycle. I think in the Southwest where it's growing

from like um, fifty to seventy years to something like
three to five years now, they have like massive wildfires.
It's because it burns so fast and it's so dense.
It's just such a great fuel that um. Yeah, there's
a there's another way that they can indirectly affect an
ecosystem to um. A lot of plants that are non

native come in and alter the composition of the soil.
They either change the on the nutrients they are available,
they change the pH they just alter the soil chemistry.
And I mean like the soil that's like the building
block of an ecosystem. You start altering that, everything from
the soil up is affected and impacted in some way
or another. Well, and then that soil can then be

transported to another ecosystem you know, right, yeah, which is
the stuff spreads. Yeah, that's actually one of the tips
for something you can do is not move soil very
long far distances that can cut down an invasive species
transferred to you. All right, Well, let's take another break,
and then we will talk a little bit about the

two ways to try and manage this, yes, and what
you can do, and the story of Katz, which is
probably not quite what you think. Yeah, all right. So

as far as management UM, there are a couple of
main ways that we're trying to control invasive species. Proactive
management and reactive proactive. If you go to California and
you have to stop at the California border and they
say do you have any fruits or vegetables from outside
the state, that would be an example of proactive management.

UM is trying to keep it from happening to begin
with by not allowing stuff and that shouldn't be in Yeah,
I guess. Apparently in this how Stuff Works article the
author talks about how they quarantine fire would sail up
in Connecticut Emerald ash board from making their way through
the state. Um or Guam. Guam has this huge brown

tree snake problem. We must have talked about this in
the in the Beagle Brigade, but they've like basically killed
off the population of every other animal on the island.
It's a little bit of an exaggeration, but it's not
too far. They've really had a huge impact on it,
and they they they trained dogs to to sniff them off.

The case from any cargo plane or ship that leaves
Guam has to be inspected by these things, by these
dogs to find the snakes because they are taking it
that seriously because they've had such a terrible impact on Guam.
Proactive management. Another thing that they do, aside from like
border inspections and stuff like that, is basically just trying

to destroy it. And I guess in that first phase
doctor Javago's first phase. By the way, doctor Javago's name is,
I found it. Are you ready for this? I think
we should get a drum roll, Jerry, Doctor Alexander mean

M E I N E. S Z Marine biologists. But
he says, you can call me al or just call
me Dr Z like Paul Simon. Yeah sure, um all right,
So yeah, eradicating them in the early stages. Uh. And
this has happened before in California specifically they beat down
an invasive weed brought in from the tropics, so it

can work. But I get the feeling that in researching
this stuff, like once you're past that first stage, you
maybe s o L. Well, yeah, I have that same
and just cross your fingers that is not one that
will wreck the ecosystem. So that's proactive. There's also reactive
management to write, and there's the age old well, just

get your hands on whatever it's natural predator is and
then introduced that into the eco system or that. That's
like from that classic Simpsons episode, you remember that where
Bart has a tree lizard that eats birds. So they
release some tree snakes and then they release some geility
the tree snakes, and they say that a cold snap
will cause all the grills to freeze to death, so

that will be that. That's like, that's basically what they're
what they're doing. Like, there's this this um bug called
brown marmorated stink bugs, which are actually they're they're stink
bugs and they'll swarm in your house, so they're a pest.
But they're also really bad for fruit crops and vegetable
crops um, and they don't have a natural predator here.

Over in Asia where they're from, they are predated by
a parasitic wasp. So they're thinking of bringing parasitic wasps
over and it's like, oh yeah, sure, nothing could go wrong,
if you bring parasitic wasps into an ecosystem. Man, those
stink bugs, they we'll scare the Bejesus out of you
in the middle of the night. Yeah, because they'll swarm. Well,

I mean I've I've never seen more than one at
a time. But I'm just talking about waking up because
one of them is crawling over your cheek. Well, supposedly,
the brown marmorated stink bugs are different from the southern
stink bugs that were used to Yeah, and they warm. Yeah,
I can't tell the difference. I've never smelled the stink either.
I haven't either. I saw somebody say that they smell

like cilantro. I'm like, that's fine, that's great. Put some
of them on your tacos. It's weird. They're all over
the place. So I see him in my bathroom, especially
in the winter. Yeah, because they come inside to stay warm. Yeah,
but supposedly they swarm. The brown marmarated one swarm, So
they come inside your house, hang out and then just

cover your face and you fall down the stairs and
then the squirrels gate you. That's invasive species in a nutshell?
What else we got here? You want to talk about
a couple more of these. Yeah, I want to talk
about my favorite of all time. Are you ready for this? Yes,
The Startling, The European Starling. Yeah. And you know what,

this is a great time to shout out, uh one
of our new brother podcasts here on the network Omnibus
with Ken Jennings of Jeopardies Fame and John Roderick of
the indie band Long Winters. They have a new show
called Omnibus that is about sort of obscure history and

uh they did an entire episode on the European Starling.
Oh they did. Yeah, well then this ties into that.
It does, so go listen to that show, subscribe and
here that is in a nutshell. Ohh okay. So back
in ninety there's this guy who was a German immigrant
to the US. His name was Eugene Shifflin. Did I

pronounce it right? I think so. Eugene Schifflin was a
Shakespeare enthusiast, right to say the least, he had this
idea that it would be really cool and US eighteen
ninety they had no idea about invasive species at the
very least you wouldn't think a bird would be but
he decided that it would be really cool to release

all of the birds mentioned by Shakespeare into North America,
and he would start with the European starling. So in
winter of eighteen ninety and then again like a month
or so later in he released a total of one
hundred European Starlings in Central Park d make note of

that number one were released in eighteen ninety and now
there are more than two hundred million European Starlings in
the United States. And they are jerkbirds. Yeah. Yeah, they'll
swarm like a brown marmordd stink bug. They'll swarm, but
they swarm on cattle to scare them away from their

food so that the starlings can eat their food. So
these birds are capable of air and cattle off. Yeah,
that's a big one. They'll also crash your plane. They will,
they will. They will swarm your airplane. Uh, it has
happened before. There was one that took off from Logan. Uh.
There in Boston the worst bath airport bathrooms in the world.

And yeah, yeah, it's pretty bad. I think I talked
about the bathroom stalls there. There's like three inch gaps
in between the doors. Yes, it's like literally you can
just see each other pooping. You could fit like a
whole and he's through there. Yeah, like you're gonna eat
that bagel, just man, slide it through there. Well, she
she makes pretzels, delicious pretzels. Um. Yeah, yeah, I wasn't

saying she she made bagels. I was just trying to
think of something fatter than a pretzel. Could you fit
a bagel through the stall? Is it really that bad?
You could fit a bagel flat man, like a bagel half. No,
it's not quite that bad, but it's bad. Like I
remember pooping it logan and making eye contact with the
just an I con the very distressing. Yeah. So anyway,

birds crashed crashed a plane into Boston Harbor, killed sixty
two people. Yeah, it's not good. And they are also
very dense eaters apparently right like uh like the carpet. Yes,
I believe. So they're definitely a huge problem from what
I understand. But they were the idea that they were
released in appreciation of Shakespeare I just find fascinating. Now

they're a major problem. Um. There's one other one we
got a shout out to Chuck is the cane toad,
which was another um invasive species that was introduced using
the Simpsons technique because there were some cane beetles that
were harming Australia's sugar crop back in the nineteen thirties,
and so they got the idea to import some cane

toads uh to eat these beetles. And the cane toads,
from what I understand, worked pretty well. But then their
population boom from I think a hundreds seven initial ones
to again two hundred million just in in less than
a hundred years. Yeah, there's a great classic documentary on
the kane toad and we talked about them before in

an episode, didn't we Yeah, one of the ways Australia
is delightfully weird. M. Yeah, we'll see you guys this fall.
That's right, your spring. Oh yeah, that's true. They're all confused.
Where are you mate? Right, although it's their summer, well no,

it's their September will be their spring, but oh right now, Yeah,
it's the deadest summer for them. Man. I can't wait
for you can't wait to meet those people in person.
So I know it's gonna be cool. Man. I'm gonna
get me a hat that has alligator teeth around the brim.
Is local custom. So Chuck, let's talk kuds do you

want to? Yeah, we'll finish up with kudzu. Um. This
is a great story called the True Story of kad
Zoo Comma the Vine that Never Truly ate the South
by Bill Finch and Uh, everyone has probably heard of
kad zoo. It has a very steeped mythology. Um. And
it's one of those things where people, um, especially outside

of the South, uh, talk about, oh yeah, you got
your cut. You know, kad zoos is. It's just everywhere
you look, there's kud zoo in the South. And and
if you go to any Southern town there will be
a kad Zoo cafe or a kad Zoo antique. There's
a Kadzoo Antiques right here, indicator. It's just one of
those things. The South took it and ran with it.

Um as far as just like a marketing thing. But
here's the deal. Most people know it was introduced at
the eighteen seventy six World's Fair Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.
Was a vine from Asia, and the story goes that
it just took over the South. But that's not quite right. Um.
In ninety five, that was dust storms that damaged the prairies,

and Congress said, you know what, erosion is a big problem,
so let's use cud zoo. And they brought in seventy
million seedlings to grow in nurseries as soil conservation. Right
remember our episode on desertification. I think we talked about that. Yeah,
so they like, we're planting it on purpose. They were
paying people as much as eight dollars an acre, which

was pretty good money back then the nineteen to plant
cud zoo. Uh. Flash forward a little bit. There was
a radio host for the Atlantic Constitution, um one of
our newspapers, Will announced a j c. Back then there
were two newspapers, a journal in the Constitution. His name
was a columnist named Channing Cope that became an evangelist
for this stuff. And basically during these depression era, radio

broadcast would say, you know, plant kud zoo. Uh, so
the South can live again. Yeah, you know, to restore
the soil back to its its original nature. And so
these farmers were taken money from the government saying, okay,
sure I got some land that I'm not using or
that could use some fixing, So I'll plant this stuff

for eight bucks an acre and they did, but the
problem is that no one could ever figure out how
to make money off of it. It wasn't a crop,
it wasn't good for grazing because apparently when cattle and
horses grazed on it, it died um and no one
really wanted to buy it from a nursery, so there's
no way to make money off of it. So when
the soil conservation payment program ended, everybody just kind of

tilled it into the soil and could do went the
way of the dinosaur, or would have had it not
been for the railroad industry and the highway construction industry. Yeah.
So the original goal was to plan about eight million
acres of the stuff around the South, but by that
was just about a million acres planted. But because of

the fact that cattle don't graze by the highway generally
or on the railroad, that's where it really took hold,
uh and did envelop things like roadside signs and full
trees and if you were and this is how it
got their reputation, because people would be on the train
or they'd be driving down the highway and they would

that's where it was the worst, and they would see
it and it got this reputation as this monster vine
that was eating the South. Yeah, because it really is
just concerning to see kudzoo growing up like a fifty
ft tree and totally covering it like it's consuming it.
It's it's very much. It evokes that same feeling like
seeing a snake eat like a whole whole rabbit. Right,

it's it's it evokes the same feeling. And um, the
thing is is most Southerners from say like the fifties
on when this was when this really started to take
root on these roadsides, their connection to the land was
no longer in for the farms or the forest. It
was in the cities, and they traveled mostly in their

car or on trains, which is where kad Zoo was
most visible. Remember, So there was this idea, and it
was a pretty understandable idea that Kadzoo had taken over
the South or was in the process of taking over
the South. And the whole thing was helped along, apparently
by a garden club newsletter. Yeah. So the idea is
that there were and this is a stat that you

can an incorrect stat that you can still get that says,
you know, up to nine million acres of the of
the southern United States is covered in kad zoo. It
all comes from these two books. A craft book and
a Culinary and Healing Guide. Are these two books that
are most frequently quoted as to that number. The U. S.

Forest Service says, actually, it's about two d and twenty
seven thousand acres of forest land, about the size of
a small county in Georgia. Nowhere near what they're saying.
It is uh uh. And while it's still when you
drive along some of these southern highways it looks like
it's eating a water tower and it and it is um.

Once you step ten feet into the forest, it stops, yeah,
because it's terror grows terribly in shade um. And Yeah,
if you have a kudzoe problem, just get some horses
or cows and there goes your kudzue problem. It's not
a very hardy plant. It's just it has no no
real predators or anything to hold it back on those

roadsides or on those railroad embankments, which is why it
grows so wild there. So those um, those that culinary
book and the craft book they have to do with
kudzus that seriously are the most widely cited sources, by
academic journals, by by scientists, by the government. Everybody cites

these these sources. Um, and apparently they just made it up.
But they said that it was that it grows at
a rate of a hundred and fifty thousand acres a year,
And that same Forest Service report estimated it really grows
it about acres a year, which is entirely manageable. Manageable.
So this the but what's basically the poster child for

invasive species in the United States, Kudzoo is actually not
really much of a problem at all. So everybody, we
we don't all drink cocola. Well that's actually not true. Yeah,
we all drink it. Actually I don't want to drink
it that much. But yeah, there is not a kudzoo problem. Um,
stop it and stop saying Hot Lanta. Yeah, nobody here

says that. No, I remember that that again in the nineties,
there is a little push for that recycling invasive species
in hot Lanta. One of them didn't make it. That's right,
you got anything else? No, I thought this is a
good one. I thought so too. If you want to
know more about invasive species, there's tons of them that
we didn't even cover. Um, So go look him up,

educate yourself, and then go save the planet and tell
him Josh and Chuck sent you. Huh. And in the meantime,
it's time for a listener mail. I'm gonna call this
very sweet orchids story a big hello to Josh, Chuck
and Jerry. I'm writing in to say how much I
love your orchids episode and also share a bitter, sweet
and pretty amazing thing that happened to my family. My

grandmother was an avid gardener who had a knack for
coaxing her collection of orchids into bloom again and again.
I think some of her orchids might have been a
decade or more old. When she was diagnosed with cancer,
she passed along her orchids to my stepmother, who has
continued the tradition. One particularly beautiful orchid had refused to
bloom after the move, until one day in August when

it did bloom again. When my stepmother posted the picture
to Facebook that morning, she didn't know that my grandmother
was in the final process of passing away. Someone used
their smartphone to show the photo to my grandmother at
hospice and it was one of the very last things
she saw once have brought her a lot of joy
to know that her orchids in fact lived on. She
attached a auto very beautiful orchid. She said, orchids will

always have a special place in my heart. We're sensing
my grandmother's last day with us, and each of those
plants is a treasured family heirloom. I hope I'll be
the next to inherit the matri ne Neal, Matrilineal, Matrilineal.
I think so yeah, that's right. I hope I'll be
the next to inherit the matrilineal Green thumb all the best, Maggie.

That is a great, great orchids story. Yep, great listener mail.
That's how you get on listener mail everybody. Yep, you
just warm our hearts, okay, or insult us. Yeah, but
we don't actually read those. We just make grumbly references.
That's right. If you want us to make a grumbly
reference to something you wrote, well, then write us an

insulting email. If you wanted to get red, then warm
our hearts. You can tweet to us at s y
s K podcast or josh um Clark. I also have
a website, by the way, called are You Serious Clark
dot com. You can join Chuck on Facebook dot com
slash Charles be Chuck Bryant uh and you can also
hit up the official Facebook page at Stuff you Should

Know and what Else Chuck Emails. You can send us
all an email, including Jerry, Noel, Matt Everybody to stuff
podcast at how stuff Works dot com and has always
joined us at home on the web Stuff you Should
Know dot com. For more on this and thousands of

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