A camel crickets in Mt. Rainier, MD, on Oct. 10, 2007.
A camel crickets in Mt. Rainier, MD, on Oct. 10, 2007. The Washington Post/Getty Images

Invasive Spider-Like Cricket Spreads Across East Coast

Sep 03, 2014

A survey of cricket sightings across the United States has found an invasive and, for arachnophobes, unsightly new species proliferating across the East Coast.

The Asian camel cricket, a plump-bodied and spindly-legged species which can grow up to four inches in length and is known to eat just about everything—including its own kind—was present in upwards of 90% of cricket sightings across the U.S., according to the survey results. A single yard in North Carolina, baited with plastic cups with a mixture of molasses and water, turned up 52 specimens over the course of two days.

Researchers were also surprised to identify a second Asian species, Diestrammena japanica, never formally reported in the U.S., turning up in photographs sent in by citizen scientists.

"The good news is that camel crickets don't bite or pose any kind of threat to humans," said study author Mary Jane Epps, a researcher at North Carolina State University. "Because they are scavengers, camel crickets may actually provide an important service in our basements or garages, eating the dead stuff that accumulates there."

The study notes that crickets and humans have shared habitats since at least paleolithic era. One cave painting in France depicts what appears to be a camel cricket, Trogophilus, that was known to dwell in caves alongside human ancestors.

Greenhouse Camel Cricket (Diestrammena asynamora), Woburn, Massachusetts
A Camel Cricket in Massachusetts on Nov. 18 2011.Piotr Naskrecki—Corbis
Greenhouse Camel Cricket (Diestrammena asynamora), Woburn, Massachusetts
In the 1970s, catfish farmers used these hardy foreign carp to remove algae from their ponds. But over the decades, floods that caused catfish ponds to overflow have released the species into the Mississippi river basin. Asian carp can grow to 4 ft. (1.2 m) in length and weigh over 100 lb. (45 kg), and have a tendency to leap out of the water, injuring fishermen and the occasional newscaster. With no natural predators and a predilection for killing off other marine life by eating all the plankton, the carp have overrun the Mississippi and are swimming towards the Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater ecosystem.
Robben Island, the tiny piece of land just off South Africa's southwestern coast is overrun with rabbits. A New York Times report revealed that up until October 2009, rabbits — probably brought to the island 300 years ago by Dutch explorers — have lived there unchecked, burrowing holes under buildings and depleting grassy areas. So far, 5,300 rabbits have been killed and estimated 8,000 more will need to be exterminated.
Originally introduced to control pests, the cane toad has become a pest of its own. Native to Central America, the toads were brought to Australia in 1935 in an attempt to control the cane beetle population in sugar plantations. Ultimately there was no evidence they killed a single beetle. Instead, the toads took over. Cane toads have few natural enemies outside of Central America, and when other animals try to eat them, sacs that run down their sides secrete a poison that kills predators in minutes.
Some call it "the vine that ate the South." It grows up to 1 ft. (30 cm) every day in the summer months, and can break power lines, kill trees and collapse buildings. Used for decorative and medicinal purposes in Asia, kudzu was first seen in the U.S. when the Japanese made it part of a garden at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Americans fell in love with the vine's bright green leaves and fragrant flowers; in the 1930s, the government paid farmers to plant it to prevent soil erosion. But kudzu grew too well outside its natural habitat; it thrives in the hot summers and mild winters of the southern states, is difficult to uproot and has no natural predators outside of Asia.
You wouldn't guess to look at it, but the deceptively adorable gray squirrel could be the most loathed animal in Britain. Grays, which are native to North America, carry deadly squirrel pox, to which they are immune but native red squirrels are vulnerable. They also eat seven times more food per hectare than their scarlet cousins, crowding out any competitors who manage to survive the squirrel plague.
In 1957, a beekeeper in São Paulo, Brazil, accidentally released 26 Tanzanian queen bees who went on to launch an agricultural calamity, a horror-movie franchise and a whole new level of melissophobia. The queens mated with native European honeybees to create so-called killer bees, or Africanized bees — an especially aggressive species. Africanized honeybee swarms have been known to stage coups where they invade European honey hives, kill the European queen and install their own leader. The bees first infiltrated the U.S. in 1990 and have since spread to the southern parts of many states, including California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida.
In 1890 New York drug manufacturer Eugene Schieffelin released some 60 European starlings in Central Park. His dream was to introduce every bird mentioned by Shakespeare into North America — an intent that proved to be more Hitchcock than Bard. Schieffelin hoped the songbirds would prosper in their new home in ways the skylarks and song thrushes had not, and they certainly did. Now the purple-green iridescent birds roost in hordes of up to 1 million; they can devour up to 20 tons of potatoes in one day and their droppings are believed to be vectors of several infectious diseases.
The northern snakehead fish has teeth like a shark and the ability to walk on land. The carnivorous fish hails from Asia but in 2002 it appeared in a small Maryland town, where it promptly obliterated wildlife in the local pond. While other invasive fish species can only travel as far as the waterways will take them, the snakehead, sometimes called "Fishzilla," can survive for up to four days out of the water and travels across land by wiggling its body back and forth like a snake. The fish has since been spotted everywhere from New York to California.
Though mussels are considered one of the great delicacies of the seafood world, a particular variety of the crustacean has left a bitter ecological aftertaste. Zebra mussels, an invasive species native to the Caspian Sea are thought to have hitched a ride to the midwestern Great Lakes in the late 1980s by clinging to the hulls of U.S.–bound European vessels. The unwelcome visitors, that have since spread east to New England, are known to feed on the phytoplankton that nourishes the filter feeders which support the diets of larger fish— effectively starving other species unfortunate enough to live alongside them.
The snake craze that caught on among American pet owners in the mid-1990s grew out of control — literally — when python owners began releasing the 20-ft. (6 m) creatures into the wild once they became too big for their tanks. Unlike many domesticated animals who can't survive in the wild, the pythons have thrived and multiplied, particularly in the Everglades where they have become a scary nuisance, posing a potential threat to humans and feeding on native endangered species such as Key Largo wood rats, round-tailed muskrats and even alligators.
A Camel Cricket in Massachusetts on Nov. 18 2011.
Piotr Naskrecki—Corbis
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