You read it here first, folks. The aliens have arrived. In fact, they’ve already got us surrounded. Some have been here for a long time, others for just a few years. Still more are lurking just across the border, eager to gain entry to our province. After all, who wouldn’t want to call this beautiful province home?
These aren’t the same aliens that cruise the skies in huge silver discs. We’re talking alien species — plants and animals that don’t belong in B.C., but have found their way here, usually with the help of humans. Sometimes the aliens like their new B.C. home so much that their populations grow very quickly, putting our native species under threat. One example is the Himalayan blackberry, which offers up truckloads of fat, juicy berries every summer. But while we love its delicious fruit, this fast-growing water hog contributes to the erosion of stream banks. It also blocks sunlight, making it tough for our native plants to grow. Blackberry bushes have even been known to trap young livestock in their bristly embrace!
This Saturday September 26 at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, I’ll be talking about some of B.C.’s most notorious alien species from algae to zebra mussels. Many of them are featured in my newest book, Aliens Among Us: Invasive Animals and Plants in British Columbia. You’re sure to find some surprising species in there. Take red-eared sliders for example, I’ll bet you never knew these sun-loving turtles were aliens! In fact they’re not native to our lakes and ponds, they’ve been released by pet owners who realize too late that the sweet little turtle they got at the pet store — illegally we might add — can grow as large as a dinner plate.
The red-eared slider turtle is just one example of the alien species that are disrupting the British Columbia ecosystem. Here are a few others:
- The Eastern grey squirrel: These adorable fuzz balls were first released in Stanley Park by the New York Fish and Game department in 1914. They are fierce competitors for nesting sites with native species such as the red squirrel and even some birds.
- The smallmouth bass: This gluttonous predator isn’t very appropriately named. It actually has a large mouth and will eat whatever it can fit into it. Popular among anglers, these red-eyed raiders can wipe out entire populations of native fishes.
- The American bullfrog: This colossal croaker was introduced by an enterprising thinker who figured he’d set up a restaurant specializing in frog’s legs. The business never took off — but his frogs did. Now they live in lakes all over southern B.C., gobbling up smaller native frogs, birds and baby turtles, and laying up to 20,000 eggs at a time.
There is a lot you and I can do to fight the alien invasion. Pop down to Science Literacy Week and Book Fair this Saturday at the Vancouver Aquarium, and I’ll give you the tools to stop invaders in their tracks!
Blog post by Alexandra Van Tol, author and freelance writer.