Invaders in the woods
A Burmese python found in Florida's Everglades last summer regurgitated a whole guinea hen and 10 intact eggs. These snakes and others like them are creating havoc in the Everglades ecosystem because of their penchant for devouring deer, raccoons and other small animals. The fact of the matter is non-native pythons, like other snakes native to the area, eat young birds, but the pythons prey on adult birds as well and this is something native snake species don’t do. Biologists studying the problem examined the digestive tracts of 85 captured pythons and found more than 25 bird species, including the endangered wood stork and snowy egret.
Further north, Asian carp are making their way up the Mississippi River basin and if they find a way into the Great lakes it could spell disaster for sportfishing as we know it. The snakehead has been introduced into American waters and this voracious Asian feeder could wipe out native freshwater fish, including bass, crappie, bluegill and even northern pike.
On a more personal level, last month I had an encounter with a group of wild hogs, yet another invasive species, that created quiet a ruckus when they moved through the spring woods on a Tioga County farm I hunt. I could hear them oinking, grunting, squealing and making just about every pig sound imaginable. I didn’t see them but from the noise there must have been a half dozen or more.
Wild pigs have the same voracious appetite as their domesticated cousins, but in the wild they can inflict significant damage to farm crops and the natural landscape by uprooting native woodland plants and eating food normally consumed by deer, turkeys, squirrels, grouse and other forest species. In addition, wild pigs consume the nests and eggs of ground-nesting birds and reptiles and will kill and eat fawns and young domestic livestock. Pigs will eat almost any agricultural crop, as well as tree seeds and seedlings. They can be quite destructive because their rooting and wallowing habits destroy crops and native vegetation, ultimately causing erosion and negatively affecting water quality.
After the pigs moved off, I got up from the base of the tree where I was sitting and walked to where I last heard them. What I saw was amazing. It looked like someone had just run a RotoTiller through the area. Rocks were turned over, the ground was turned over and several Jack-in-the Pulpit and Trillium were left lying on the ground, uprooted by the porcine invaders.
Consider that under favorable conditions wild hogs can breed at six months of age and have a litter of up to eight piglets several times a year, it’s easy to see how quickly their numbers can grow and how fast they can spread. The DEC is committed to eliminating wild hogs in New York state and its goal is to eradicate them from the state's landscape. In New York, people with a small game license may shoot and keep feral swine at any time and in any number. All other hunting laws and firearms regulations are still in effect when hunting these unwanted invaders. Let’s hope these pigs don’t gain more than a toehold or our forests will be threatened by yet another foreign invader.