Invasive Species in the Honey Island Swamp

Invasive Species

Table of Contents

Invasive species are defined as non-indigenous organisms that negatively alter any new environments. These species have the ability to adapt easily and reproduce quickly. While they can have beneficial effects, these invasive species often cause ecological, environmental, and/or economical damage. These species can involve a variety of living organisms, ranging from plants and insects to fungus and bacteria.  

How are They Spread?

Invasive species spreading is typically caused by human activity. These non-indigenous species are often brought in with a purpose. For example, invasive species can be used as a form of pest control in many areas. However, these species can also be introduced after being kept as pets or decorative displays. The individuals responsible often do not know how to handle these animals, ultimately resulting in them being released into the wild. The spreading of these species can also be unintentional. For example, boats tend to carry aquatic organisms on their underside or on their propellers. 

Invasive species can thrive in different environments for two main reasons, one being that they outcompete native species for food. Another reason is due to there being no natural predators that hunt them. Unfortunately, many of these invasive species can destroy habitats, putting other animals at risk. 

Out of the world’s 100 worst invasive species, there are four notable invasive species that reside in the Honey Island Swamp. 

1. Nutria

Invasive species
Image credit: National Geographic Photo Ark

Coypu, more commonly known as Nutria, are large, web-footed rodents. They typically grow between 17 to 25 inches long, ranging in the same size as raccoon. They resemble a mix between a small beaver and a giant rat.  

Nutria’s ability to eat approximately 25% of their body weight per day and their rapid reproduction rate are a major risk factor to any environment that they call home. As a result, they are categorized as an invasive species. Nutria also host several diseases and parasites, including tuberculosis, tapeworm, liver flukes, and nematodes. As a result, many bodies of water have become contaminated by Nutria. This is a risk for anyone or thing that is swimming or drinking in these same areas.

2. Apple Snails

Invasive species

Apple snails, otherwise known as ampullariidae, consist of a family of large freshwater snail species. They possess the ability to rapidly alter the ecological makeup of whatever environment they are introduced to. This is a direct result of their rapid eating styles and growth rates, hence why they are categorized as an invasive species. 

Apple Snails are considered opportunistic eaters. They can feast on a variety of things, including vegetation and smaller snail species. This can result in a drastic change in nutrient dynamics. Apple snails can change with the seasons, surviving in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. This allows them to lay eggs in a variety of locations, making it nearly impossible to contain them.

3. Wild Boar

Invasive species

Perhaps one of the most beloved animals on the Cajun Encounters Tour is the wild boar. Unfortunately, they fall under the category of invasive species. Wild boars are typically bulky and short in stature, possessing short and thin legs. Their heads take up to one-third of their body’s entire length and showcase a mouth full of well-developed canine teeth. As omnivores, their diet is highly versatile. They typically consume up to 4,000 calories per day.

Wild boars are considered one of the widest-ranging mammals in the world.  Their wide range, high numbers, and adaptability is why they are considered invasive.  Along with these attributes, wild boars are known to host at least 20 different parasitic worm species and multiple parasites. These diseases not only affect wild boars themselves, but also humans and other animals.

4. Water Hyacinth

Water hyacinth flower in the swamp

Contrary to popular belief, water hyacinth is not a native Louisiana plant. While they are commonly found in multiple areas throughout the state, they are considered an invasive species. The water hyacinth consists of dark green, waxy leaves connected to a bulb-shaped petiole. Their roots have the ability to extend 2-3 feet down, allowing them to start a completely new plant. Their size varies, ranging anywhere from 3 to 12 inches.

This plant is known for creating dense floating carpets on ponds, lakes, and bayous.  Ultimately, they block the sunlight from penetrating the water’s surface. As a result, submerged plants are often killed and oxygen levels decrease. In addition, their decaying leaves often drop off into the water. This results in an increase in sedimentation rates in the waterway.

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