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11 Invasive Species Wreaking Havoc Around the World

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Invasive species are bad news. They compete with native critters for food, destroy local ecology and, in some cases, are even dangerous to humans. And thanks to the increasingly global nature of our world, there are more and more animals discovered where they don’t belong every year. Here are just a few pests that have hitched rides to distant shores, where they’re currently wreaking havoc.

1. Cane Toad (Bufo marinus)

The cane toad (top) is perhaps the most infamous invasive species. Native to Central and South America, it has been imported to a number of places—Florida, the Phillippines, some Japanese islands, most islands in the Caribbean, and Hawaii, among other places—by farmers who hoped the creatures would wipe out local pests. Instead, they got another kind of pest, one that’s much harder to get rid of. The cane toad is huge—the biggest, captured in 2007, was over 8 inches long and weighed nearly two pounds—and voracious, gobbling up many native species.

The toxins in the cane toad's skin often kill animals that try to eat it (except for those animals who seem to deliberately get high by licking the toads), and it puts rabbits to shame with its reproductive capabilities; each female lays thousands of eggs each year. Case in point: Australia. In 1935, 102 cane toads were introduced to combat the Greyback Cane beetle. By 2010, that number had ballooned to 1.5 billion toads spread over 386,100 square miles, and they show no signs of stopping.

The toads are hardy, too: they’ve been spotted coming out of brush fires or hopping away after being run over. One toad even survived being eaten by a dog, which threw up the perfectly-fine toad 40 minutes later.

2. Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus)

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You’ll recognize this nasty bug, number four on the list of 100 worst invasive species, by the black and white markings on its body and legs. Native to Asia, it has spread to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the United States—first in Hawaii in the 1800s, and then the continental U.S. in 1985, when it hitched a ride from Japan in a shipment of tires. Unlike most other mosquito species, the highly-adaptable Asian Tiger is active during the day, and lays its eggs either near stagnant water or in fresh running water. To nourish her eggs, the female feeds off of humans, birds and other animals with a rapid bite that allows her to eat and fly before she can be swatted.

The mosquito is a carrier of West Nile virus and dengue fever, among other diseases dangerous to people. Scientists in South America are experimenting with genetically modified versions of the males—which, when released into the wild, live just long enough to mate and pass on a lab-tweaked gene that kills the larvae shortly after they hatch—though the plan to introduce those modified bugs in Key West has been met with some protest.

3. Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus)

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Burmese pythons, native to Southeast Asia, came to the United States in the 1990s as part of the international pet trade. When those pets escaped their enclosures or were released into the wild, they bred, and the first established populations were reported in 2000. These massive snakes, which grow to an average of 12 feet (although larger ones have been found, and the snakes can grow to 20 feet in captivity), are eating their way through native species throughout Florida. Scientists believe they could eat Florida panthers, and at least one has tried to eat an alligator (albeit unsuccessfully: the snake exploded). It’s now illegal to import the snakes into the U.S. without a permit.

4. Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys)

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If you live in certain portions of the United States, you might notice ugly, shield-like insects crawling and buzzing around your house. Squish or swat at them, and you’ll to get a noseful of foul stench. These obnoxious little pests are brown marmorated stink bugs. Native to Eastern Asia, they were first discovered in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1998, but likely arrived in shipping crates a few years before that. Since then, the bugs have spread to 34 states in the Northeastern U.S., the mid-Atlantic region and the Pacific Northwest. Halyomorpha halys eats almost anything it can get its proboscis on including apples, pears, soybeans, green beans, raspberries and cherries. And they’re destructive: In 2010, 18 percent of the mid-Atlantic apple crop was destroyed by the bugs. Brown marmorated stink bugs have few natural predators here, but scientists are exploring releasing non-stinging parasitoid wasps to help keep the stinkers in check. Researchers have also figured out where bugs that don’t come into your house spend the winter, which they hope will help control the population.

How do you get them out of your house? Bide your time. When it warms up, these stink bugs leave on their own. And, thankfully, they don’t lay eggs or nest in your walls—all of that behavior happens outside.

5. Asian Carp

The National Invasive Species Information Center lists four different species of Asian carp that have made their way into U.S. waters from Eurasia, where they compete with native species for food. One species, the silver carp, can also be dangerous to humans: The fish, which can grow to 100 pounds, are easily frightened by boats and frequently jump out of the water—sometimes onto people. According to a 2007 EPA report, “injuries include cuts from fins, black eyes, broken bones, back injuries, and concussions.” Some species have spread across the U.S.; it’s now illegal to import them without a permit.

6. Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica)

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These clumsy fliers, native to Japan, probably came to the U.S. in a shipment of iris bulbs before 1912, when commodities inspections began. They were discovered in a Riverton, New Jersey, nursery in 1916 and have since spread as far as Idaho. The Japanese Beetle munches on 200 types of plants, including birch trees, rose bushes, grapes, and hops, consuming the leafy material between the veins.

7. Zebra Mussel (Dreissena polymorpha)

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The Zebra Mussel, native to Eurasia, came to North America in ship ballast water. They were first detected in the Great Lakes in 1988, and have spread like crazy since then. These tiny pests—which range from about the size of a fingernail to 2 inches in length—compete with native species for food, but they’re a headache for humans, too: They clog pipes and attach themselves to locks and dams. Dealing with the creatures costs millions of dollars a year.

8. Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta)

Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If there’s one thing you don’t want to do, it’s accidentally stumble on a fire ant mound: These insects, native to South America, will swarm up your leg and sting in concert. Their venom, which contains a necrotizing alkaloid, isn’t typically strong enough to kill a person, but those stings hurt—a lot. The fire ant was introduced to the United States in the 1930s when it hitched a ride in ships’ ballast and has become a pest across the south. (There are also invasive populations in Taiwan and Australia.) Because they’re aggressive and extremely resilient—fire ants can survive both floods (by balling up into an ant raft) and droughts—they’re wiping out many native ants and lizard species; their mounds also destroy plant roots.

Stopping the invasion might seem impossible, but another non-native species might be able to help. In 1999, scientists released Phorid flies, imported from Brazil and Argentina, that lay eggs inside the fire ants. Their larvae eat the ant from the inside, and eventually pop out at the joint of the thorax and the head, decapitating the ant—and the new fly goes on to repeat the process.

9. Northern Snakehead Fish (Channa argus)

Photo Courtesy Virginia Tech

National Geographic didn’t call the Northern Snakehead “Fishzilla” for nothing: This species, native to China, can grow up to 40 inches long, has rows of slender, villiform teeth, and can breathe air—and, therefore, migrate over land. They have no predators outside their native habitat. The Northern Snakehead was first discovered in the U.S. in a pond in Maryland in 2002, where a man had released a pair of fish he had bought from a market in New York.

10. Asian Longhorn Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis)

The so-called starry sky beetle might look pretty, but it’s also pretty destructive: It bores into both healthy and stressed maples and other hardwoods, weakening and killing the trees. Found in Brooklyn, New York in 1996, where it came in a shipment from Asia, this pest is currently in five states and threatens many others. The beetle also threatens trees in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK.

11. European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

You’ve seen them: the huge flocks of extremely noisy birds that alight from a tree, all at once, in a huge black cloud. These are European starlings, which were intentionally introduced in 1890 as part of a plan to bring to the United States all birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare (starlings are mentioned in Henry IV, Part 1). According to Scientific American, the American Acclimatization Society released 100 starlings into Central Park in 1890 and 1891; by the 1950s, they had spread coast to coast. The birds compete with native species and destroy crops at every turn. So thanks for that, American Acclimatization Society!

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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8 Bizarre Places People Have Gotten Stuck
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Some days it just doesn’t pay to venture outside, particularly when you wind up the subject of a police and fire department rescue because you’ve somehow trapped yourself inside an ATM machine. Check out eight other strange environments that have ensnared bystanders and prompted emergency responses.

1. A CLAW MACHINE

A giant see-through container full of plush toys is any child’s idea of paradise, and they will attempt any means possible to inhabit it. For three-year-old Jamie Bracken-Murphy of Nenagh, Tipperary, Ireland, that meant crawling through the small flap from which the toys can be retrieved and finding himself lodged in a claw machine. Murphy was on display for about 10 minutes before an off-duty fireman was able to coax him back out the way he came in. Jamie’s father, Damien, expressed little surprise at his son’s predicament, saying that, "He's a very mischievous, sharp kid who's always pushing boundaries."

2. A TRAFFIC CONE

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In 2013, a man in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England thought he’d have a bit of fun by sticking a traffic cone—otherwise known as a bollard—on his head. To his dismay, the large cone slid down over and past his shoulders, entombing him in plastic. John Waterman, a witness to the incident, captured it all on his cell phone. "It was very random," Waterman told The Telegraph. "It's not the usual thing you see in the middle of Hemel Hempstead on a Sunday lunchtime." The man stumbled around for more than two hours before anyone bothered to call police.

3. A CEMENT HOPPER

Aurora, Illinois was the site of a recent cement mix-up, when an unidentified man became trapped in a cement hopper. The worker had climbed into the machine to clean it, but found he was unable to move when residual cement on the machine's floor began hardening around his legs. It took firefighters more than two hours to extricate him from the hopper. He was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for minor injuries, but released the same day, according to the local fire department.

4. A TOILET

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In 2016, a Norwegian man named Cato Berntsen Larsen found himself in deep trouble after he tried lowering himself into a public toilet to retrieve a friend’s cell phone. The toilet’s tank was located underneath the seat, allowing enough room for Larsen to become trapped. To his dismay, the tank—which is not connected to a sewage system and is only emptied sporadically—was full of human waste. Adding to the putrid nature of his enclave, Larsen vomited and was bitten by an unknown animal: His situation did not improve until authorities were able to come and pull him out. "It was damn disgusting," Larsen said, "the worst I have experienced. There were animals down there, too."

5. A GIANT STONE VAGINA

Tourists and residents of Tübingen, Germany are quite familiar with Chacán-Pi, a giant stone sculpture of a vagina created by Peruvian artist Fernando de la Jara. The towering display sits just outside Tübingen University’s Institute for Microbiology and Virology and has attracted curious onlookers since 2001. In 2014, an unnamed American student decided to go spelunking in the 32-ton carving for a photo opportunity and became trapped, necessitating rescue by 22 firefighters. The Guardian called them “midwives” and reported that the student was “delivered by hand.”

6. A WASHING MACHINE

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Sometimes, games of hide-and-seek can go very wrong. That was the case for a man near Melbourne, Australia in 2014, who climbed into his top-loading washing machine fully nude to surprise his partner. Unfortunately, he was unable to climb back out. Responders were able to grease him with a liberal application of olive oil and pull him out. First Constable Luke Ingram told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that, as a rule, “My advice would be for people not to climb into appliances.” The warning went unheeded by another Australian man in 2015, who found himself lodged in a front-loading machine and had to wait while rescuers disassembled the entire unit in order to free him.

7. A BABY SWING

If you’re ever challenged by your adult friends to fit into a baby swing at a public park, you can confidently say that it won’t work. That’s because a man from Vallejo, California tried it in 2011. While he managed to slide into the seat using liquid laundry detergent, he couldn’t slide back out. As his legs began to swell, his friends abandoned him overnight. He wasn’t rescued until nine hours later, when a groundskeeper heard his screams for help at 6 o'clock the following morning. "The man sustained non-life threatening injuries to his body," the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "but there’s no word yet on the condition of his ego."

8. A CHIMNEY

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There are many Santa jokes to be made, but when you’re the man trapped in your own home’s chimney for four hours, there probably isn’t a huge urge to start laughing. In late 2016, a Tucson, Arizona homeowner who had locked his keys in his home opted to retrieve them by re-entering his abode via the chimney. While it was a spectacularly bad idea, he actually almost made it: His feet were touching the floor of his fireplace before the space grew too narrow to allow for any further passage and he got stuck. Firefighters were able to pull him out from the roof, covered in soot but otherwise unharmed.

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Big Questions
Where Is the Hottest Place on Earth?
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The summer of 2017 will go down as an endurance test of sorts for the people of Phoenix, Arizona. The National Weather Service issued an extreme heat warning, and planes were grounded as a result of temperatures exceeding 120 degrees. (Heat affects air density, which in turn affects a plane’s lift.)

Despite those dire measures, Phoenix is not the hottest place on Earth. And it’s not even close.

That dubious honor was bestowed on the Lut Desert in Iran in 2005, when land temperatures were recorded at a staggering 159.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The remote area was off the grid—literally—for many years until satellites began to measure temperatures in areas that were either not well trafficked on foot or not measured with the proper instruments. Lut also measured record temperatures in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009.

Before satellites registered Lut as a contender, one of the hottest areas on Earth was thought to be El Azizia, Libya, where a 1922 measurement of 136 degrees stood as a record for decades. (Winds blowing from the nearby Sahara Desert contributed to the oppressive heat.)

While the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) acknowledged this reading as the hottest on record for years, they later declared that instrumentation problems and other concerns led to new doubts about the accuracy.

Naturally, declaring the hottest place on Earth might be about more than just a single isolated reading. If it’s consistency we’re after, then the appropriately-named Death Valley in California, where temperatures are consistently 90 degrees or above for roughly half the year and at least 100 degrees for 140 days annually, has to be a contender. A blistering temperature of 134 degrees was recorded there in 1913.

Both Death Valley and Libya were measured using air temperature readings, while Lut was taken from a land reading, making all three pretty valid contenders. These are not urban areas, and paving the hottest place on Earth with sidewalks would be a very, very bad idea. Temperatures as low as 95 degrees can cause blacktop and pavement to reach skin-scorching temperatures of 141 degrees.

There are always additional factors to consider beyond a temperature number, however. In 2015, Bandar Mahshahr in Iran recorded temperatures of 115 degrees but a heat index—what it feels like outside when accounting for significant humidity—of an astounding 163 degrees. That thought might be one of the few things able to cool Phoenix residents off.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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