Steeves: Not all aliens are invasive but let’s keep them all in check

I nearly grabbed him with my hand to throw in the compost, but then I realized it wasn’t a brown stick, but a bug.

I nearly grabbed him with my hand to throw in the compost, but then I realized it wasn’t a brown stick, but a bug—a very distinctive one.

Closer inspection revealed that it was a brown praying mantis perched on a decaying stump in my garden, but without any movement, he was barely visible.

Fall garden cleanup often uncovers interesting leftovers from the growing season,  and not long after finding one mantis, a green one surfaced as well. I left both to continue the hunt in my garden.

I only discovered at the new exhibit at the Okanagan Heritage Museum on Ellis Street that praying mantis are not native here, but were brought in by Okanagan farmers looking for a control for grasshoppers in the 1930s.

I’ve always appreciated their predatory efforts on my behalf, but so many aliens are invasive that I assumed they were native to the Okanagan.

You know, if they do good, they belong here, right? But, apparently, not all aliens are bad.

Some of the worst are invasive aliens like the purple loosestrife that has such beautiful flowers, but which can choke a waterway in no time; or the prickly, nasty knapweed that takes over vast acres of rangeland by releasing a chemical from its roots that prevents other plants from sprouting.

Then there are birds like the starling which has caused untold damage to native songbird populations, with an estimated 200 million now in North America; and the red-eared slider turtle that can take over the ponds where local painted turtles live and out-compete them for food. The latter is an example of an exotic pet that misguided people set free not realizing the damage it can do to native ecosystems.

Whenever we meddle in the natural world, it’s damaging, but sometimes the carnage is more devastating than at other times.

Whether it’s by disturbing ground that is then fertile for the seeds of invasive alien species such as knapweed to take root, releasing an exotic pet into the wild or not cleaning off the bottom of the boat before launching it into a local lake, we all must be aware of the possibility we may be contributing to the problem.

Then, it’s vital we do all we can to prevent invasive aliens from moving in and taking over.

This is a fascinating exhibit from the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, that’s here until February, so make time to visit and take the kids with you.

Incidentally, to continue the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club’s celebration of its 50th anniversary this year with 50 public activities, there’s an introduction to bird counts with Lesley Robertson and Rick Gee at the EECO on Springfield Road Saturday, Dec. 3, where you’ll carpool to bird watching destinations.

Dress for the weather, bring a snack and binoculars and a loonie for insurance.



Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.



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