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Big Problem in the Big Easy: Invasive Cuban Treefrogs Move into Louisiana

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Louisiana is now home to one more frog species, and that's a problem. According to Popular Science, scientists have found invasive Cuban treefrogs at a New Orleans zoo, marking the first toehold the amphibians have been able to make in the U.S. outside of Florida.

Cuban treefrogs are native to Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas, but they came to the U.S. in the 1920s by way of the Florida Keys. They have since spread as far north as Jacksonville. The massive frogs—females can grow up to 6 inches long—are major pests, hunting several species of native Floridian frogs and out-competing others, clogging drains and setting up camp in toilets, and occasionally causing power outages when they decide to hide in utility boxes.

Now, the species is showing up in New Orleans, more than 430 miles away. They may have stowed away on a 2016 shipment of palm trees from Lake Placid, Florida bound for the elephant exhibit at New Orleans's Audubon Zoo.

A U.S. Geological Survey in the fall of 2017 captured hundreds of the frogs on and around the zoo's grounds. Over the course of four surveys, USGS scientists found 367 frogs and 2000 Cuban treefrog tadpoles. They drained the two pools where the tadpoles were swimming in the hopes of killing off any they missed, but the likelihood of reversing the spread of the frogs is low. The USGS warned in a recent press statement that "eradicating the recently discovered population in Louisiana is improbable." The frogs reproduce quickly and will eat almost anything. Based on the results of these surveys, it seems they have already driven out all the native frogs in Riverview, the section of Audubon Park where the tadpoles were found.

Brad Glorioso, the lead USGS ecologist on the study, explained that while stowaway treefrogs have trouble surviving when they make their way to higher latitudes, the climate around New Orleans seems to be more hospitable to them. "They often end up in places with unsuitable climates, but in south Louisiana, Cuban treefrogs appear capable of withstanding seasonal cold spells by seeking appropriate refuge," he said.

For now, the best scientists can hope for is keeping the frogs from moving across the river from the zoo into one of the large public nature preserves nearby.

[h/t Popular Science]

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environment
McDonald's May Be Getting Rid of Its Plastic Straws
Philippe Huguen, AFP/Getty Images
Philippe Huguen, AFP/Getty Images

First Seattle and then the Queen. Could the Golden Arches be next to join the anti-straw movement? As Fortune reports, McDonald's shareholders will vote at their annual meeting on May 24 on a proposal to phase out drinking straws at the company's 37,000-plus locations in the U.S.

If passed, the fast food behemoth would join the ranks of other governments and businesses around the world that have enacted bans against straws in an effort to reduce plastic waste. Straws are notoriously hard to recycle and typically take hundreds of years to decompose.

McDonald's is currently in the process of removing plastic straws from its roughly 1300 outlets in the UK. However, McDonald's board of directors opposes the move in the U.S., arguing that it would divert money from the company's other eco-friendly initiatives, The Orange County Register reports. This echoes comments from the plastic industry, which says efforts should instead be focused on improving recycling technologies.

"Bans are overly simplistic and may give consumers a false sense of accomplishment without addressing the problem of litter," Scott DeFife of the Plastics Industry Association told the Daily News in New York City, where the city council is mulling a similar citywide ban.

If the city votes in favor of a ban, they'd be following in the footsteps of Seattle, Miami Beach, and Malibu, California, to name a few. In February, Queen Elizabeth II was inspired to ban straws at royal palaces after working with David Attenborough on a conservation film. Prime Minister Theresa May followed suit, announcing in April that the UK would ban plastic straws, cotton swabs, and other single-use plastic items.

It's unclear how many straws are used in the U.S. By one widely reported estimate, Americans use 500 million disposable straws per day—or 1.6 straws per person—but it has been noted that these statistics are based on a survey conducted by an elementary school student. However, plastic straws are the fifth most common type of trash left on beaches, according to data reported by Fortune.

[h/t Fortune]

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Mario Tama, Getty Images
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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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