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Invasive species threaten a lot

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POSTED: August 18, 2012 2:00 p.m.

I got a call last week from a UGA entomologist looking for information on kudzu bug in Georgia’s coastal counties.

The kudzu bug is native to China and was first found in the Atlanta area in 2009. The bug likes to eat its native Chinese vegetation, which previously found a home here in the U.S. Kudzu was imported from China as a tool for forage and soil stabilization. The soybean was smuggled here from China by the owner of the Bonaventure Plantation near Savannah in the early days of the colony. Wisteria was imported from China for its blooms and can be invasive if allowed to escape culture.

Hitching a ride into Georgia and finding soybean, kudzu and wisteria must have been delightful for the kudzu bug. The bug was first discovered in Bryan County last year on wisteria but has not been reported from Liberty, McIntosh or Glynn — maybe because we do not have much in the way of soybeans or kudzu on the coast.

Kudzu bug is a problem not just for soybean growers but for the common citizen wherever it is found. It is a stink bug, and, well, you can smell it before you step into a soybean field. It also has a painful bite that one will not soon forget, especially if the juice from kudzu bug gets in one’s eyes. The bug also likes to overwinter under the bark scales of pine trees or under lap siding on homes.

Nutrias and giant Argentine tegus can be a real threat to marshes, estuaries, wetlands, shore birds and sea turtles. The sea turtles, shore birds and coastal environment generally are under assault from feral hogs that root up and eat sea turtle eggs, bird eggs and just about anything that cannot get out of their way fast enough.

Diseases and parasites make the meat of feral hogs generally unfit to eat, and the females reach reproductive age at six months from birth. Consensus seems to be that we cannot kill feral hogs as fast as they reproduce, and at some point, the diseases they carry will threaten the commercial pork industry.

As if the feral hog problem was not enough of a threat to sea turtles and shore birds, there may be two new — well, new to Coastal Georgia anyway — foreign invaders to worry about. Last week, I received an email about a reported sighting of a giant Argentine tegu on a golf course fairway on Jekyll Island. A tegu is a lizard that can grow to 4 or 5 feet long and is a threat to ground-nesting birds and gopher tortoises. A tegu digs burrows if it does not have a gopher-tortoise burrow handy, so digging up a sea turtle nest would not be a problem for it.

A report is not as good as a corpse, so keep your eyes open on Jekyll and see if this lizard is really out there. It is black with white stripes that run horizontally across the body, neck and tail. I suspect this Jekyll specimen is an escaped pet.

Usually weighing between 14-16 pounds, the nutria was imported for the fur trade more than a century ago. When the fur trade tanked, many nutria were turned out onto the countryside. Nutrias are causing significant damage to the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay area and have been confirmed in both Florida and North Carolina, so it would be counter-intuitive for the nutria to not be in Georgia. We have lots of salt marsh and Spartina alternaflora, which is one of its favorite foods. In the Chesapeake Bay area, its voracious over-harvesting of Spartina results in creation of mud flats, swim channels and “eat outs” where they feed on the root mat of Spartina that stabilizes the marsh mud. Nutrias are feral in Georgia but have not caused the problems they have in Virginia and Delaware.

Don Gardner is the UGA agricultural agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan County.

 

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