Trending that caught Doug’s eye… the attack of invasive species


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/06/2014 (3198 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


If we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we probably wouldn’t have believed it.

A photo displayed last week on the website of the B.C. daily newspaper the Province showed a beaming Russ Schut standing beside a pond on his family’s Alberni Valley property on Vancouver Island, holding a fishing rod in the air.

Dangling from the end of Schut’s line was — prepare to be horrified — a bullfrog the size of a recreational vehicle.


OK, we are exaggerating for comical effect, but the point is what Schut hauled out of his family’s pond was a 60-centimetre, 1.3-kilogram American bullfrog, an invasive species that has been spreading on Vancouver Island and displacing Canadian frogs in the habitat they invade.

Like most invasive species — non-native plants and animals — the American bullfrog can wreak havoc when introduced into a new habitat, especially when there are no natural predators on hand to keep the invaders in check.

“They’re voracious eaters,” Gail Wallin, executive director of the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia, told the media of the monster Schut hooked. “They’re big, and when you’ve got a species like that, that can basically out-eat some of the native species, it will take away the forage that native species would use and at times they can be aggressive on other smaller-sized, earlier-life-cycle-size frogs.”

It’s unclear what damage the American invaders will cause to delicate ecosystems, unlike five of the world’s most alarming invasive species:


5 Killer bees

THE HORROR STORY: OK, Africanized honey bees aren’t exactly massing on our border with the U.S., but these scary pests have in recent years become the poster children for invasive species. We personally are terrified of regular bees, let alone hybrid bugs that have spawned such realistic horror films as 1978’s The Swarm, wherein a gigantic squadron of the insects kills thousands of innocent Texans who attempt to defend themselves with helicopters and flamethrowers. Rated the No. 6 invasive species by, the so-called killer bees originated in Brazil in 1957 when a replacement beekeeper accidentally released 26 Tanzanian queen bees that mated with native European honeybees, creating an especially aggressive hybrid that has created an agricultural horror, along with some really bad movies. These invaders take over the hives of regular bees, kill the queen and install their own leader. They infiltrated the U.S. in 1990 and have since spread throughout many of the southern states. Their venom is no deadlier than that of traditional honey bees, but they can inflict 10 times as many stings than their calmer cousins. A 62-year-old Texas farmer suffered a painful death earlier this year when his tractor disturbed a hive containing an estimated 40,000 killer bees. “In addition to being a threat to humans, they are also relatively lousy at producing honey — making them a threat to agriculture as well,” warns


4 Burmese


THE HORROR STORY: If aggressive bees make you perspire heavily, imagine how you’d react facing a six-metre snake in the wild. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, about 99,000 Burmese pythons were imported to the U.S. between 1996 and 2006. The big problem arose when these snakes became too big for their tanks and owners started illegally releasing them into the wild. Officials in Florida estimate between 30,000 and 300,000 of the huge snakes infest Everglades National Park, and that number is rising because they have few predators. There is no evidence they hunt humans in the wild, but pythons feast on a wide array of endangered species. “Alligators up to five feet long (1.5 metres) have been found inside the bellies of captured pythons, as have a wide variety of native endangered species who have no defence against the scaly serpents,” warns the website It is now illegal to import the giant reptiles without a permit, and Florida has created a “Python Patrol” of about 400 trained responders who will humanely remove snakes spotted by the public.


3 Asian carp

THE HORROR STORY: These bad boys are now considered one of the top non-native threats to Canadian ecosystems. Back in the 1970s, U.S. catfish farmers imported these hardy foreign fish to remove algae from their ponds. Thanks to flooding, they escaped into the Mississippi River basin, where they have been killing off other marine life by gobbling up all the plankton. Having overrun the Mississippi watershed, they are now swimming towards the Great Lakes, the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem. In 2012, the U.S. pledged $50 million to keep them out of the Great Lakes, with plans including everything from increased trapping and netting to acoustic water guns to scare them away. Scariest of all, one species, the silver carp — which can grow to 1.3 metres long and weigh up to 50 kilograms — has a tendency to be startled by boats, leap out of the water and wallop the odd fisherman or TV journalist. A 2007 Environmental Protection Agency report stated “injuries include cuts from fins, black eyes, broken bones, back injuries and concussions.” Ontario fears the invaders could damage sport and commercial fishing, which pump millions into that province’s economy.


2 Zebra


THE HORROR STORY: We don’t want to alarm anyone but: THEY’RE HERE!!! These aquatic pests were first found last fall on the hull of a private boat and a dock at Winnipeg Beach and on some fishing boats dry-docked at Gimli. A freshwater mollusc native to the Caspian Sea, zebra mussels likely hitched a ride to the Great Lakes in the late 1980s by clinging to the hulls of U.S.-bound European ships and are now established in the Red River watershed south of the border. Left to their own shellfish devices, these unwelcome visitors could contribute to the growth of green-algae blooms, curb certain fish species, foul beaches and, because of their ability to cling to hard surfaces, clog water-treatment plant intake pipes and effluent-discharge pipes. They can multiply so fast they have been known to sink navigational buoys. They filter out large amounts of phytoplankton, damaging the food chain and effectively starving other species. Manitoba is spending about $500,000 to eradicate them by injecting potassium-containing potash into four Lake Winnipeg harbours to stop them from multiplying. “The one certainty we know of is, if we do not take action, things will get worse,” Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh warned in May.


1 Purple loosestrife


THE HORROR STORY: Yes, we know, this is a plant, and they don’t make a lot of horror movies about plants, although we still refuse to watch Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Day of the Triffids alone in a dark room. The important thing to know is this is a very bad plant and it poses a serious threat to the wetlands of Western Canada, including here in Manitoba. According to the Invasive Species Council of Manitoba, the Eurasian perennial was accidentally introduced to North America in the early 1800s and since then has been damaging biological diversity by out-competing native vegetation. It grows everywhere. In the wild, it creates a dense, purple landscape, choking out native plants that form habitats for wildlife. Since it arrived without a natural predator, it grows like a (bad word) weed in ditches, irrigation canals, marshes and standing water. “This affects the entire wetland community of both plants and animals,” the invasive species council’s website advises. “The estimated cost of control, losses and damages associated with purple loosestrife is (US$45 million) annually.” To curb this noxious weed, Manitobans are urged to remove and destroy existing plants in their gardens and visit to report infestations in the wild.

And if you see one of those giant American bullfrogs, remember you are a friendly Manitoban, so introduce him to your pet Burmese python. That should make him croak.

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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