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In the news: Invasive lizards, moths on American shores and more

A young,exotic, tegu lizard is held by Jake Edwards, a wildlife technician for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Florida, Wednesday, September 4, 2013. The non-native lizards are being found in large numbers in South Dade, and the FWC is working on capturing them. (Emily Michot/Miami Herald/MCT)

A young,exotic, tegu lizard is held by Jake Edwards, a wildlife technician for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Florida, Wednesday, September 4, 2013. The non-native lizards are being found in large numbers in South Dade, and the FWC is working on capturing them. (Emily Michot/Miami Herald/MCT) Purchase photo reprints »

HUNT IS ON FOR TEGU LIZARDS IN SOUTH FLORIDA: The Argentine tegu lizard doesn’t grow nearly as big as a Burmese python but it may be a greater threat to South Florida’s native animals. At a maximum size of four feet, a tegu can’t gobble down a full-grown deer or alligator with its rapier-sharp teeth. But the invasive, black and white reptiles have the potential to cause even more ecological damage than the 18-foot snakes that have drawn international media attention in recent years. And now, scientists say, it’s too late to eradicate them. “When we first found out about them in 2008, we thought we had a chance to nip this population in the bud,” said the National Park Service’s Tony Pernas, who co-chairs the Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area group. “Now we’ve changed from eradication mode to containment mode.”

Long a popular staple of the exotic pet trade, the tegus likely were released by irresponsible owners or escaped from captive breeding facilities in south Miami-Dade County. Right now, the escapees’ epicenter is in the Florida City-Homestead area where federal, state and local agencies — with help from private trappers — are trying to round up as many as possible before the animals go into hibernation in October. Another distinct population has cropped up in west-central Florida’s Polk-Hillsborough county area.

The chief worry among scientists and wildlife managers is the tegus fanning out to neighboring Everglades National Park (where a handful have been captured) as well as east to FPL’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant and south to the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in north Key Largo. Containment is urgent, they say, because the lizards will eat just about anything - small mammals, birds, insects, plants, and their all-time favorite — eggs. That means goodbye to the baby American crocodiles that would have hatched in the refuge and the sand berms of the power plant — and recently were downlisted from an endangered to a threatened species. It could also mean lights out for the endangered Key Largo wood rat - not to mention other native creatures.

— The Miami Herald

ALPHA FOUNDATION AWARDS $10M FOR MINE RESEARCH: Virginia Tech and West Virginia University are among the first group of winners of research grants for a wide array of mine health and safety issues at the nation’s mines. The Alpha Foundation announced Monday it is awarding the first $10 million of the $48 million it has to spend. Sixteen research proposals won initial approval, and final budgets for them are now being discussed. Chairman Michael Karmis said the proposals were chosen from a pool of 160, and more will be solicited in the future. The only non-academic winner in the first round is the United Steelworkers, which will focus on identifying and controlling hazards in metal and non-metal mines. The other winners are the Colorado School of Mines, Northeastern University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the universities of Kentucky, Utah, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Connecticut.

— Associated Press

REGULATORS IN N.E. CAP RIVER HERRING CATCH: Regional fishery managers have adopted limits on how much river herring can be caught by huge trawlers working New England waters. Populations of alewives and blueback herring, referred to collectively as river herring, are in historically bad shape, as are stocks of shad. These fish once supported a large commercial fishery, and they also have cultural importance up and down the coast because of the “herring runs” that occur when the fish return upriver to spawn.

The caps proposed Thursday by the New England Fishery Management Council during their meeting on Cape Cod target so-called mid-water trawlers, which catch herring by pulling a large net between them. The caps limit the trawlers to a total of 500,000 pounds of river herring in three areas off New England. The caps must be approved by federal regulators. — AP

EGGS OF DESTRUCTIVE ASIAN MOTH SPECIES FOUND: The eggs of a destructive foreign moth species that “poses a significant threat to our nation’s forests and urban landscapes” were found aboard a carrier ship docked in Baltimore in mid-September, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Monday. Customs agents discovered six masses of Asian Gypsy Moth eggs during a Sept. 16 inspection of the Columbia Highway, a vehicle carrier that had made port calls in Japan in June and July, the border agency said. Females of the species can travel 25 miles per day and “can lay egg masses that could yield hundreds of hungry caterpillars,” the agency said.

The female is also “a voracious eater that attacks more than 500 species of trees and plants,” the agency said.

The masses were removed and the area was treated with a pest spray, the agency said. Then, while transiting to another port in Brunswick, Ga., the ship’s crew found 20 additional egg masses, and customs agents found an additional mass in Brunswick, officials said. The ship was found to be clear of masses during a subsequent inspection in Charleston, S.C.

Officials across the country have fought to eradicate Asian gypsy moths whenever they are found, because of their potential harm, particularly to the agricultural industry. — BaLTIMORE sUN

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