Good intentions gone astray: Imported wildlife

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Even Kent, Ohio's famous black squirrels were imports that took over their habitat. Not all species are adorable imports.

They may look like ladybugs, but they aren’t. In fact, they are beetles that were transplanted here to control parasites that damage farm crops.

And of course, they like it here. Really like it here. Like it so much that they are feeling good, frisky, and highly reproductive. So numerous are the beetles that they have become a serious pests, what’s next? Maybe a bird or bigger bug that might be introduced to control the beetles and once they have devoured most of them, maybe they will develop a taste for stink bugs. We can only hope.

Invasive species

Some call non-native species, be they creatures that fly, swim, walk, crawl, or jump, exotic or alien species. Some exotics find their way here by accident — attached to the hull of a boat, sucked into the ballast tank of a foreign freighter, or maybe tossed into a sack of fruit to be shipped. The ways in are countless.

But some alien species are brought to the U.S. intentionally for a variety of reasons. Some are meant to control something else, others might be to provide sport or additional agricultural products, and still others just for the heck of it.

Ohio author George Laycock, a talented writer with a special interest on outdoor topics and a flair for storytelling at its highest level, once penned a book all about the many alien creatures that became U.S. residents, welcome at first, but later not always. Laycock belonged to the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and he was always good for a story or two at our annual conventions.

Black squirrels

The stars of The Alien Animals, The Story of Imported Wildlife, published in 1966, might seem rather tame to a 21st century reader, but at the time it covered a great many species that had been imported for a variety of reasons, some as simple as the black squirrel, a seemingly harmless experiment that knew no bounds.

Black squirrels, according to Laycock’s remarks, were an individual’s doing when he thought it would be fun to trap a few further north and release them in Kent, Ohio. That was in the 1950s when, like so many imported creatures, seemed finely suited for Kent. But again like so many exotic creatures, black squirrels multiplied like well, like rabbits, and can now be found statewide and beyond.

In Laycock’s words, men move animals in an almost casual manner, all kinds of wild creatures, each the custodian of its own diseases and parasites. All this, perhaps with good intentions, most without thought to what might happen, what might be affected, and what problems might be forth coming.

One of the best stories is about the colorful ringneck pheasant, an Asian import, the first chapter of which took place in 1882.

The pheasant story is as good as it gets and so are the stories about Great Lakes fisheries for imported species such as Coho and Chinook salmon.

But there are plenty of squirrel tales to tell. Like when a batch of 10 gray squirrels were sent to live in England at the request of the Duke of Woburn, whoever and wherever he is. According to record, the Duke thought the energetic tree climbers would be a fun addition to his forested estate. So cute were the grays that Brits caged then as pets and transplanted some of the Duke’s excess bushy tails to new horizons.

And did the squirrels ever thrive and, without hearing the rest of the story, one can almost guess what came next. Yep, too much of a good thing. Gray squirrels chased away the smaller, and perhaps more British, red squirrels. The grays became kings of their domain.

Hungry critters

But there’s more. Gray squirrels tasted the bark of England’ hard wood trees and they liked it. They liked it so much they chowed down on tree after tree, barking tender young maples and beeches and everything in between. Indeed the British hardwood industry has a thing or two to say about the Duke of Woburn and his cute little gray squirrels. And there is that too much of a good thing again.

The list goes on. Always growing, never stopping. Good intentions gone astray. Not all, but far too many.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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