Georgia is an incredibly beautiful state. With scrub forests and swamps in the south, beaches in the southeast, and mountains in the north, this state has it all. Unfortunately, all those amazing habitats don’t just attract tourists and invasive species are a big problem.
What are invasive species?
Invasive species are any species of plant, animal, or organism that establishes itself in an environment where it’s not native. Some are purposely introduced, some arrive accidentally, and some make the journey on their own.
Invasive species in Georgia
These non-native species are found all over the world and the United States. In this article we’re looking at some examples of invasive species in the state of Georgia.
1. Fallow Deer
Scientific name: Dama dama
The fallow deer is native to Turkey and surrounding areas. However, it was introduced to many parts of Europe and the US in the 1900s for game hunting. Little Saint Simons Island was the area in Georgia where the Fallow Deer were introduced and where they have thrived since.
While these deer are quite beautiful, they do quite a bit of damage to native plants and, in the past, they have driven the native white-tailed deer almost completely out of their range. Thankfully, due to conservation efforts, sightings of white-tailed deer are on the rise on the island and while the fallow deer are likely there to stay, the hope is that they can coexist.
2. Golden Bamboo
Scientific name: Phyllostachys aurea
This gorgeous perennial is more dangerous to the environment than it looks. Unlike the lucky bamboo you can buy in most stores, Golden Bamboo is true bamboo. It reproduces via rhizomes, which are underground shoots. This, coupled with its fast-growing nature and extreme adaptability, makes the Golden Bamboo nearly impossible to remove once it’s established. Leaving just a portion of the rhizome in the ground means the bamboo will continue to grow and come back.
This plant was originally imported to the US from China as an ornamental plant and is usually found near homes or cities. It impacts the environment by overpowering native plants, and it can even damage sidewalks, home foundations, and other structures if left to grow unchecked.
3. Greenhouse Frog
Scientific name: Eleutherodactylus planirostris
While this adorable dime-sized frog is not a native species, it also isn’t causing any notable damage to the ecosystem. Likely imported in potted plants, this frog has a very unique means of reproduction. Unlike most frogs which lay eggs that turn into tadpoles, greenhouse frogs lay eggs that hatch into tiny frogs.
Often found in greenhouses and near civilization, these small frogs feed mostly on springtails, gnats, and small flies that find their way to the dirt of the plants these frogs call home.
4. Brown Anole
Scientific name: Anolis sagrei
Similar to the greenhouse frog, the brown anole likely made its way to the US by hitching a ride. Native to Cuba and the Bahamas, these lizards are thought to have come over as stowaways on passenger boats. Since their arrival, these anoles have bred and spread prolifically, now greatly outnumbering our native green anoles that they currently share the habitat with.
Interestingly, the brown anole is now hitching rides north and has been found in and around rest stops on the northbound side of highways out of Florida and into Georgia. Scientists suspect that the anoles are accidentally being transported on or in cars and are hopping off the first chance they get. Establishing themselves in new areas.
The biggest threat posed by brown anoles is that they will outcompete other native lizard species.
5. Cane Toad
Scientific name: Rhinella marina
The cane toad is one of my least favorite invasive reptiles. These frogs are native to South America but have been introduced to Georgia in an effort to control insects. Unfortunately, they have also caused untold damage to native wildlife and pets.
Cane toads produce poison in a gland on the side of their neck. This secretion is highly toxic and can kill most things that would attempt to eat a cane toad, including large dogs, cats, birds, and other reptiles. In Australia, some predators have learned to flip the toads and eat them from underneath, avoiding the toxins, but here in the US, they are still relatively safe from predation.
If you see a Cane Toad, the best thing you can do for the environment is humanely euthanize it.
6. Brahminy Blind Snake
Scientific name: Indotyphlops braminus
Brahminy blind snakes are native to Africa and Asia but have been introduced to various other parts of the world due to the plant trade. This means of introduction is where they got one of their other common names, the flower pot snake. They are also often called worm snakes and blind snakes.
This species is one of the smallest snakes in the world, growing to an average of just 4-6 inches. They are completely fossorial, which means they live underground. They feed mainly on small bugs and are completely harmless to humans. Even if they wanted to bite you, they can’t due to their diminutive size.
The coolest thing about these snakes is that they reproduce parthenogenically, which means females can reproduce without the presence of a male, and all babies are tiny clones of their moms.
While these snakes are not native to the US, there isn’t any evidence they are causing a negative impact on their new homes.
7. Africanized Honey Bee
Scientific name: Apis mellifera scutellata
While scientists are unsure if Africanized honey bees are established in Georgia, some specimens have been found. Very similar in appearance to our native honeybees, the only way to tell the two apart is by measuring them. The Africanized variety is slightly smaller.
Africanized honey bees will still pollinate flowers in their area. However, their honey is not very palatable. They are much more aggressive than native honey bees and will defend a larger territory. Scientists are concerned these bees will outcompete our natives and cause injury to humans and animals they come in contact with.
8. Skunk Vine
Scientific name: Paederia foetida
Like many of Georgia’s invasive species, the skunk vine has come to the state via Florida. Skunk vines were imported into Florida from Asia in the late 1800s as a potential crop. While it failed at being marketable, it did not fail at escaping and spreading over Florida and now into Georgia.
This vine is very harmful to native plants, it can grow up to 30 feet and chokes out trees and other plants where it grows. The best way to get rid of skunk vine is to dig the entire plant up and remove it, but if that method isn’t feasible, you can also pull down the vine and pour a herbicide on it. This will kill the vine and the roots.
9. Blue Tilapia
Scientific name: Oreochromis aureus
These fish are native to Africa and the Middle East but have been introduced to several states in the US. The biggest threat from these fish is to other native fish with whom the tilapia are competing for food. They mainly feed on plants, diatoms, and small invertebrates.
10. Alfalfa Weevil
Scientific name: Hypera postica
This Asian native is a pest to the agricultural industry. Once these insects find their way to an alfalfa field, they can almost entirely destroy the crop and make it worthless for harvest. Unfortunately, these insects are currently found in 48 states and the only current means of getting rid of them is insecticide.
11. Channeled Apple Snail
Scientific name: Pomacea canaliculata
These invasive snails are able to decimate large amounts of aquatic plants in a short period of time. Not to be confused with our native apple snails, the invasive variety is slightly larger and lays large clutches of small pink eggs, while our natives lay smaller clutches of larger tan-colored eggs.
The biggest concern with these snails is that they will outcompete natives and destroy the habitat of other animals in the area where they have been introduced.
12. Australian Spotted Jellyfish
Scientific name: Phyllorhiza punctata
Also called white-spotted jellyfish, these jellies travel in large groups feeding on zooplankton. They are found in coastal areas and estuaries and are thought to have a negative impact on native species as they outcompete them for resources. They are also causing issues for shrimp fishermen as the jellies get caught in their nets.
Whether you live in or travel through Georgia, be mindful you aren’t bringing anything in or taking anything out with you. Many invasive exotics are unknowingly trafficked to new areas by unsuspecting humans. Our best bet in protecting our native species is to be mindful of what is around us.