The topic of invasive species is growing more popular in mainstream media, with insects like the Giant Asian Hornet, Elm Seed Bug, and Spotted Lanternfly dominating public interest. In the scientific community, the existence of invasive insects is a widely debated topic. On the one hand, some entomologists advocate for integrated and immediate control to prevent further spread of non-native species. In New York, for instance, local governance is urging citizens to participate in spotted lanternfly control and "keep stomping” on these insects.
On the other hand, some entomologists advocate for the prevention of spread rather than strict control. This viewpoint often cites that invasive insects are brought to a new region through human introduction; they didn’t ask to be here, but humans brought them anyway. Furthermore, some entomologists recognize that invasive insects can be beneficial to their new ecosystems.
In either case, it's essential to recognize which insects are native and which are invasive to understand your local ecosystems better. After that, it's up to you to decide if they are beneficial or harmful to their new environments. I hope this blog gets you thinking more about invasive insects and their impacts, whether good, bad, or neutral.
Western Honey Bees
When you think of an invasive species, I'm willing to bet that something scary comes to mind. But in the case of invasive honey bees, these insects are often regarded fondly for their roles as pollinators and honey makers. Western honey bees were first introduced to America in the early 1600s by English settlers. Since their introduction, and especially given the recent increase in beekeeping and apiary farming, western honey bees are now widespread throughout the United States. This has been a beneficial introduction to honey production and commercial agriculture, given their proficiency at pollinating crops. However, environmentalists note that invasive bee species, honey bees, in particular, damage the native environment by competing for resources and environmental niches with native pollinator species.
Western honey bees are still widely adored and supported as essential insects by the general public. In a way, these invaders are considered "the good guys" relative to other invasive insects despite their non-native nature and interruption in the environment.
Believe it or not, some termites are invasive (as if they weren’t problematic enough already). Dry wood termites, which feed on dry wood, and damp wood, which feed on damp wood, termites are native to North America. Subterranean termites, however, which live in soil and infest basements, cellars, and the lower levels of the home, are not native to the United States at all! These termites originated from southern China and were introduced to the United States sometime in the 1960s on infested ships sailing from Asia to the Americas.
Since their introduction, subterranean termites are now found in every state in the continental United States except for Alaska. They are considered the most destructive termite (more so than dry wood or damp wood termite), creating an estimated $30 billion in damages annually throughout the U.S. Though similar in size to native termite species, subterranean termites have darker bodies and infest homes through mud tunnels formed from the soil upward to the home’s foundation. In the grand scheme of invasive insects, subterranean termites represent the “bad guys." The damage they create heavily outweighs any environmental benefits they may provide.
While technically not an insect, as a Georgia native entomologist, I feel it's my obligation to mention the hauntingly beautiful and invasive Joro Spider. These spiders are a relatively newer invasive species, first documented in the United States in 2013 in north Georgia. Although they have not spread beyond the Peach State's borders, University of Georgia entomologists revealed earlier this year that colonization of the entire East Coast is possible and likely in the coming years.
Aside from being first identified in my home state and by my alma mater, I have a fondness for this invasive arthropod as it represents the gray area that lies in invasive species discourse. The Joro spider is aesthetically gorgeous, given its yellow, black, blue, and red body plan in addition to its large size. Additionally, these spiders are orb weavers that create giant webs spanning three to ten feet in length with golden silk. Though not native to Georgia, this spider is harmless and does not pose any human or animal health risks, nor does it deplete other native spiders of resources or space. In fact, like other arachnids, Joro spiders help control other harmful insects such as mosquitoes, flies, and even invasive brown marmorated stink bugs.
So, this begs the question – what do we do? Are Joro spiders worth controlling for, or should they be left alone to spread to other regions of the U.S.? What preventative measures should be set in place to combat them, or should we be promoting their presence?
Don’t let invasive species invade your home!
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