Friday, August 12, 2011

Wayward Gecko from Firehall #1 - An Invasive Friend or Foe?

 Earlier this week we received an e-mail from Chattanooga Firefighter Gabriel Thrash. He and the other firefighters at Station #1 had a new friend. This "lizard" was scooped up after being observed hanging around the walls and ceiling of the firehouse. He wanted to know if an Aquarium expert could identify the creature. Dave Collins, the Aquarium's curator of forests, was able to quickly respond (Much like our firefighting friends.): "It’s a Mediterranean house gecko," said Collins. "It is an exotic from southern Europe but one of the most successful hitch-hikers in the world. This species has become established virtually around the globe including most of the Southeast. Like its name implies, it loves to cohabitate with humans-enjoying the heat, security and steady diet of bugs that our homes and buildings provide."

Anyone wishing to learn more about these friendly little house guests can go to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource website.

Collins says that while it's enjoyable to watch these animals patrol for bugs on walls and around light fixtures, it's important to remember that this is an invasive species. In this case, Mediterranean house geckos don't seem to cause many problems.

Star Trek fans will recall one of the most famous episodes, The Trouble with Tribbles.

The crew of the Enterprise were quickly overrun by an invasive species brought aboard the Starship by a huckster selling the creatures for pets. According to Wikipedia, this science fiction episode was an early attempt to address environmental concerns.

From Wikipedia: In his 1973 memoir The Trouble With Tribbles: The Complete Story of One of Star Trek's Most Popular Episodes [1] author David Gerrold states that he had been a science fiction fan since childhood, and was a film student in college when the series was aired. Gerrold submitted five story premises to Producer Gene L. Coon. One of the five premises, "The Fuzzies", interested Coon, and Gerrold was commissioned to write the story outline (retitled A Fuzzy Thing Happened To Me. . .).

"Tribbles" was originally intended to be a serious take on the introduction of alien species to predator-free environments, as had happened with rabbits in Australia. In the book, Gerrold stated that his goal was to show how a species that seemed harmless could be quite dangerous.

Unfortunately this happens in the real world today when animals like lionfish are purchased for pets and turned loose in environments where they don't belong. Lionfish are rather gorgeous fish, but they are causing big problems from the U.S. east coast through the Bahamas, Florida Keys, Mexico and most recently the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Locally, mosquitofish were introduced to control the bloodsucking insect populations. But the mosquitofish also liked eating topminnows. And within a relatively short period of time, Barrens topminnows were in trouble in their native springs on the Cumberland Plateau because of another introduced species.

And it takes a lot of hard work to restore an endangered species once they are threatened by an invasive animal.

So while a gecko may not be a "fire" for local creatures, it does illustrate the "smoke" of invasive animals being very successful where they don't belong.

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