Time to Eat, Zap, or Neuter Invasive Species

Invasive species: if you can't (or won't) eat them, you can hunt, drug, sniff, zap, infest, or adopt them.

The giant African land snail (Achatina fulica), which now terrorizes Florida, dines on more than 500 species of plant and will even devour stucco and other building materials. One solution to the snail invasion could be culinary. Floridians could learn from people in the snails' native Africa, where snail soup is a delicacy.

The giant African land snail joined a buffet of other edible invasive species in Florida, including: tiger prawns (Penaeus monodon) and lionfish (Pterois sp.) from the Gulf of Mexico, an aquatic rodent known as a nutria (Myocastor copyus) and feral hogs (Sus scrofa). Vegetarians with a taste for invasives can dine upon the kudzu plant. Kudzu cooks prepare the roots like potatoes, make salads of the leaves, turn the flowers into jelly and nibble on the tender shoots of the plant, which taste like snow peas.

Making a meal out of invasive species isn't to everyone's taste however. If you can't (or won't) eat them, you can hunt, drug, sniff, zap, infest, or adopt the creatures, as well as give them contraceptives.

Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) also plague Florida. This year, Florida opened an official hunting season for the giant reptiles.

Nearly 1,600 hunters searched the wilderness of Florida in January and February. The hunters bagged 68 Burmese pythons, including an 14-footer. The python hunt helped reduce a threat to American wildlife and provided data on where python populations have proliferated.

Florida isn't the only part of the United States with a snake problem.

The venomous brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) devastated the native birds of Guam after serpent stowaways escaped onto the island, possibly during World War II. Within a few decades of their arrival, the snakes stripped Guam of many native birds, such as the Mariana fruit dove, Guam flycatcher and cardinal honeyeater. Of 18 indigenous birds, seven went extinct, while two species only survive in captivity.

Guam, a U.S. territory, may have found a solution to the snake plague in the medicine cabinet. The mild pain-killer, acetaminophen, kills brown tree snakes. A plan is in the works to bomb the forests around Anderson Air Force Base on Guam with acetaminophen-stuffed, dead mice. Wildlife managers hope the medicine will end Guam's reptilian headache.

Other Pacific islands residents worry that the brown tree snake could spread from Guam. Snake-sniffing canines help Hawaii fight the threat of snakes on a plane.

Hawaii deploys dogs in airports to seek snakes sneaking onto the island in the cargo of an airplane. Dog's noses sense snakes hidden from human eyes. Beagles were originally used as snake hounds, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service switched to Jack Russell terriers, a more successful snake sniffer, reported KITV.

Hawaii has learned from past mistakes how not to fight animal invaders. In 1883, sugar cane planters brought 72 Indian mongooses (Herpestes javanicus) to the island. The goal was for the mongooses to eat another invasive species, the black rat, that was threatening the sugar crop.

However, the mongooses found Hawaii's native birds and reptiles to be a much easier meal that vicious rats. Not to mention, rats are active at night, whereas mongooses are active in the day.

Now, mongooses have overrun most of the Hawaiian islands. Last year, one of the pesky predators was trapped on Kauai, an island that had been sparred the mongoose onslaught for a century, reported the New York Times.

Introducing mongooses to Hawaii failed miserably. However, the introduction of Mediterranean beetles to the American Southwest proved to be a successful defense against the onslaught of tamarisks, or salt cedar trees (Tamarix sp.).

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released hundreds of Mediterranean tamarisk beetles (Diorhaba elongata) in California, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. The beetles have multiplied and now devour tamarisk leaves across large areas of the Southwest. The insects nibble the tamarisks down to the stem. After a few years of being beetle breakfast, the tamarisks may die, or at least be less aggressive.

Tamarisk trees were introduced from central Asia to the Southwest in 1837 to control erosion. The trees thrived along waterways. Tamarisks dominated other species while sucking up scarce water supplies. Since the beetle feeds only on tamarisks, biologists believe the insects won't harm native vegetation.

Electric fences and water are a scary combination, but the invasion of Asian carp calls for desperate measures.

Four species of aggressive fish, collectively known as Asian carp, escaped from aquaculture farms during floods of the Mississippi River in the 1970s. Since then the fish have conquered large sections of the river and its tributaries by out-competing native fish.

Biologists fear that the fish could make their way into the Great Lakes and disrupt the ecosystem there as well. In 2002, engineers installed the first of three electrified barriers in the canal that connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes.

The underwater electric fences create an electric field which gives fish an increasingly unpleasant shock the further they swim into it. However, when the power goes out, as it did in May 2012, the carp could make their break for the vulnerable lakes beyond the canal.

One of the most devastating of invasive species might be purring on you lap at this very moment.

Cats kill an estimated 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds per year in the United States, according to a study published in Nature Communications. The majority of those kills were by feral cats.

Taking a cat off the streets can reduce pressures on native wildlife. I caught my cat (shown here) when she was a kitten. Her mother gave birth to her underneath my shed and I caught her by hand.

Some organizations encourage Americans to catch feral cats and take them to the vet for sterilization. The spayed or neutered felines are then re-released. Although some claim this helps control cat colonies, it does little to prevent feral cats from decimating wildlife.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) uses a similar trap, neuter and release program to control feral horse and burro herds in the American southwest.

First introduced by Spanish conquistadors, more than 38,000 wild horses and burros roam the country. The BLM rounds-up some of the horses and offers them up for adoption or permanently confines them. In 2011, an experimental BLM program injected 90 captured mares with a contraceptive derived from pig eggs. Test projects found that these contraceptives can reduce birthrates and extend female horses lives, since the mares are spared the stresses of pregnancies and labor.