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There goes the neighborhood: 5 invasive species that don’t belong here

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If you don’t want to upset Mother Nature, think twice before you release your exotic pet snake back into the wild, warn scientists. While it’s all “fine and well” for humans to migrate to new continents, experts explain that the same is not always true for our furry and green leafy friends. When plants and animals jump continents, it can wreck havoc on the environmental neighborhood.

“An invasive species,” explains University of Phoenix College of Natural Sciences chair Sunny Ryerson, “is any new plant or animal that comes into a new area and establishes itself rapidly, because it has no natural enemies, or natural diseases.”

Ryerson urges people to reflect on the consequences of their actions. “Maybe people don’t consider what they’re doing when they dump things,” says Ryerson, “but we need to be careful when we release exotic things into nature.” Here, Ryerson’s list of the country’s most invasive creatures, bringing down the ecosystems in a neighborhood near you.

1. Zebra mussels

These tiny mussels — native to the Caspian Sea — were brought into the Great Lakes on the hulls of U.S.-bound European ships in the 1980s, and have spread to New England and elsewhere. “They are a terrible nuisance, because they are so prolific,” says Ryerson, who has also worked as an entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Because a female can produce up to 1 million larvae during their lifetime, they clog the pipes of sewage facilities, and do damage to power plants located near bodies of water.”

2. Cane toads

Hailing from South America, the cane toad was first imported to Australia to eat cane beetles, explains Ryerson. “But they are now wiping out native species in Australia, Florida and Texas. “The cane toad’s average size is between two to four pounds, and their rapid-fire croak is not very attractive,” complains Ryerson. “Plus, they have a poisonous gland on their back, and when other species — such as fish and birds — eat the tadpoles it can wipe them out entirely."

3. Asian carp

Originally brought to the United States from Asia in the 1970s to remove algae from ponds, Asian carp can grow up to 100 pounds and 8 feet long, and have flooded into the Mississippi River and others waterways. “They are known to jump up and hit people on jet skis,” says Ryerson. “So people are really annoyed by them because they are getting in the way of having recreational fun. And they’re disrupting the food chain by eating up other fish.”

4. Kudzu

This rapidly growing vine from Japan was introduced to the United States in 1876 as part of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. “Initially, it was thought to be a pretty plant," explains Ryerson, “but that was before people knew how invasive it was. Now Kudzu spreads up to 150,000 acres per year in the south at the rate of a foot each day; that’s a lot of spreading.”

5. Burmese python

When pet owners in Florida grew tired of this once popular Southeast Asian snake, which can live as long as 20 years, they released it into the wild in the Florida Keys in the 1980s. “Who would have thought that releasing pets would create a menace, but they are so common now that people are finding them in backyards and highways,” says Ryerson, “And they are killing off endangered mammals and birds.”

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