Imagine this: it is a typical Thursday night and you find yourself trying to choose a movie to occupy your time. You are in the mood for a film that could both thrill and provoke thought. Sound familiar? Before you settle on the most recent blockbuster, consider a less conventional cinematic experience, one that offers excitement, stimulation, and raw truth. Although a documentary on invasive species was hardly what you had in mind, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” gives an experience well worth the time.
People generally do not become involved in a problem unless they are directly effected by its outcome. The film examines several areas of the world where the havoc invasive species have wreaked on the environment has directly effected humans. In New Orleans, an invasion of a termite has led to the destruction of the historic homes in the French Quarter. In Guam, children are being attacked by the foreign Brown Tree Snakes. Out of all the examples given, most alarming was the situation in Lake Victoria, Uganda, with water hyacinth. A beautiful and harmless looking plant has directly lead to countless crocodile bites and diseases inflicted on locals. The species had completely canopied the lake, clogging fishing lines and creating stagnant pools. Without the flow of water, diseases such as malaria, have begun to spread more quickly. They have also created waters ideal for crocodiles. As the crocodile population sky rockets, the fish population stays the same. With the lack of food, the crocodiles seek human flesh to satisfy their palate. By bringing light to how invasive species directly effect humanity, the movie uncovers a moral underside the issue. Many scientists may argue that the death of native species is in itself a moral issue, and should have been more heavily focused on in the film. In reality, the percent of the population who are emotionally moved into action over a lost species of plant is very minimal. By focusing on how invasive species pose a threat to humans and not just native species, the film-makers inspire viewers into action; a feat that would otherwise be very difficult to accomplish.
Some may criticize the film for over-dramatizing the problem of invasive species in order to draw viewers. In many ways, this can be distracting to viewers seeking the model unimaginative documentary. However, for the rest of America, the exhilarating methods National Graphic employs are exactly what scientists in the field of preventing the spread of invasive species need. The hype caused by the film will cause a domino effect of awareness. People may find themselves checking their shoes for New Zealand mud snails or avoiding planting foreign species to avoid their spread. While the documentary offers enjoyment over merit, perhaps hype is exactly what is necessary for this issue. So next time you find yourself in the position of not knowing which movie to watch, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” should be the obvious choice: for entertainment that will also inspire action.
Formosan subterranean termites have found a new home in New Orleans, Louisiana and the southern United States. It has been speculated that these termites reached America just after the end of World War II. When American troops were packing up to return home from Japan and China they used the local wood to make crates for transportation. No one had any clue that there were extra travelers on board the ships roaming within the crates. When the troops landed in Louisiana they dumped the crates there and the termites began their attack. Not all invasive species are able to survive in a new environment and are sometimes out competed by the native species. In this case the Formosan subterranean termites were able to survive in New Orleans because it is hot and sticky, resembling their home climate. Also the fact that New Orleans is practically made of wood also contributed to their ability to survive. They were able to compete with the local termite species because they live above and below the ground whereas the local termites only live underground. These termites have become so much of a problem that the question isn’t if you will get termites, it’s when will you get termites and how bad will it be. The people of New Orleans can no longer trust the stability of the houses they live in.
Entomologist Claudia Riegel, lead investigator, realized that taking on the task of exterminating these termites would be a bit much and instead decided to try and manage them. She uses the termites habits against them. These termites stick together and more importantly they eat together. Bait stations were set up underground all throughout the city. These bait stations are pieces of wood with tasty stuff on them which of course attracts termites. The purpose of these bait stations are to cut off the supply lines to the main nests.The strategy used by Dr. Riegel was very smart. I am curious to know how this strategy worked and if it has made a significant difference. I feel that if this approach is not effective the next step should be try and eliminate the termites on a larger scale.
“Strange Days on Planet Earth” is a short documentary narrated Edward Norton about invasive species. It highlights several invasive species such as water hyacinth, Nile perch, termites, and Miconia. The film also has an excellent general overview of invasive species. The documentary skillfully illustrates the effects an invasive species can have on the invaded cosystem, economy, and health of local humans. All aspects of invasive species are covered in the film. It discusses how invasive species are introduced into a new environment, what advantages they have over native species, and how they can cause massive collateral damage. For example, the termites that invaded the south (New Orleans in particular) were brought to the United States in crates (accidentally) from Japan following their surrender in World War II. The termites had one significant advantage over the indigenous termites. The Japanese termites burrowed above ground as well as below, while the native termites burrowed only underground. This allowed the termites to invade large areas and significantly number the native species. The resulting cost is tens of millions in property damage.
But financial costs aren’t the only adverse side effects invasive species can cause. The Miconia invasion in Hawaii is destabilizing the soil of the islands as it pushes out native plants. During heavy rains the shallow roots of the Miconia fails to hold the soil, often resulting in landslides. The efforts to combat the Miconia invasion costs millions of dollars. Without local efforts, the Miconia would likely overwhelm local plant species and cause severe ecological repercussions. However, the Water Hyacinth causes health problems as well as financial and ecological. It chokes the shorelines of Lake Victoria which provides stagnant water for malaria ridden mosquitoes and other disease bearing creatures.
The documentary does an excellent job of discussing the general impact of invasive species and the potential harm they can cause if left unmolested. Given the massive international shipping and trading industries, the spread of invasive species is likely to increase. If the industries continue to grow but the efforts against invasive species does not, invasive species will become a global catastrophe. The film postulates that once geographic barriers are removed, as many as two-thirds of the Earth’s species could be made extinct in a mass survival-of-the-fittest free for all.
I personally believe that “Strange Days on Planet Earth” is an excellent documentary. It discusses every aspect of invasive species with plenty of depth. It seems incredible how easy it is for invasive species to be transported accidentally. All it takes is a few plants or animals to devastate an ecosystem and cost billions of dollars. The film was also incredibly illuminating. I never thought of invasive species being such a major problem, but after just that short documentary I am aware of how serious it really is. “Strange Days on Planet Earth” is well constructed and extremely informative.
When World War II came to an end, the men and women of the Armed Forces stationed in China and Japan were finally able to return to the United States. Before mobilizing its troops, however, the military purchased a number of storage crates to facilitate the transport of equipment and supplies. The crates, made of Asian wood, were discarded at dumping grounds near Louisiana shortly after the troops arrived home. Unbeknownst to the returning veterans, the crates that once held their belongings were likely teaming with Formosan subterranean termites. Upon arriving in the United States, the invasive species began to slowly propagate. Despite the initial lag, by 1960 New Orleans was completely infested, and today citizens of the city complain of their overwhelming abundance. The invader’s success can be attributed to the extremely hospitable environment afforded by the southern United States. This region is characterized by a warm, humid climate which parallels that of the termites’ Asian homeland perfectly. Moreover, the invasive termites dwell both above and below ground, while species native to the larger New Orleans area are found solely below ground. Thus, the Formosan subterranean termite enjoyed limited competition as it wrought havoc across the South.
Today, citizens of New Orleans no longer wonder if they will be faced with termite infestation; they merely await the arrival of these pests, accepting their ensuing destruction as an inescapable fate. Because the termite problem in the south is so severe, researchers are forced to invest great amounts of time and energy in finding ways to control these pests. One of the most notable individuals working with Formosan subterranean termites is Dr. Claudia Riegel, senior entomologist for the city of New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board. So prominent are these invaders, Riegel has given up hope of eradicating the termites and instead looks for methods to control their rapid proliferation. The most effective technique exploits the termites’ inherently social nature. Because the creatures are predisposed to share food sources with one another, Riegel can set a single poisoned bait trap and destroy an entire nest in the process.
While the strategy of baiting termites with contaminated food is an impressive feat of ingenuity, there are several perplexing questions that accompany this technique. One must wonder, for instance, the overall efficacy of this method. If it takes a prolonged amount of time for a termite nest to die from the poison found in the bait, the pests may be able to inflict significant damage before they are eliminated. Furthermore, does the number of nests destroyed by this time-consuming task actually have a significant effect of termite population numbers? If the answer is no, then taxpayers may be wasting their money on ineffectual termite control. Perhaps a more effective strategy would entail making termite traps a standard part of newly constructed houses, or installing these devices along the outsides of all wooden buildings. Finally, it may behoove etymologists to consider the introduction of yet another nonnative species in an attempt to control the termite population. While it is true that this method holds the potential for disaster, proper research can hedge the probability of misfortune, meaning there would be a very high benefits-to-risk ratio. If a more successful means of suppressing these invaders is not developed, it is depressing to think that New Orleans might soon lie in ruins.
Though it may not be especially apparent at first glance, the city of New Orleans is under attack by a small, persistent pest. If left uncontested, it could seriously damage the homes and lives of the city’s residents. They were actually originally stow-aways from Japan, and with the surrender of WWII, and the need to package everything up and ship it back to the United States, lots of local asian wood was used, and along with this wood came the termites. They flourished as invaders because the climate of New Orleans is very similar to that of Japan, along with the fact they can reproduce quickly, and often go unnoticed until it is simply too late. Not to mention the fact New Orleans is basically all made of wood.
One of the ways that scientists are trying to take care of this problem is by setting up traps with tasty paper that attract termites, attached to a circuit. So when the termites eat the paper, the circuit is broken, and when they run over the spot with a metal detector, researchers will easily be able to tell if there have been termites there. Then, the tasty paper can be replaced with poisonous paper, and that particular nest can be killed. Though this will not by any means get rid of the termites as a whole, at least it is taking a step in the right direction.
It seems to me that this problem has gotten too out of control, and that New Orleans will have to take some incredibly drastic measures to keep these pests in check. Though what the researchers in film was interesting, it seems completely impractical on a large scale. All new homes will have to be built of non-wood materials, traps and monitoring systems put in place, and other prevention methods will have to be developed. I honestly had never heard of this issue though before this video, and though the city of New Orleans probably wouldn’t want everyone to know about their termite problem for tourism issues, it seems like they might be able to attract more activists and people who want to fix the problem if they made it more public perhaps? This might be a good idea, since sadly, the alternative is letting the city pretty much literally collapse before their eyes.
Photo from here.
New Orleans is being overrun. It has been for about 60 years, since the first Formosan subterranean termites are said to have come to the United States. Scientists believe the little invaders came over in World War II crates, hidden to the people transporting them. Troops coming home from Japan and China were unaware of the danger hidden inside the wooden crates they were packing to come home. In under 20 years, the termites had taken over the city, and by now they are everywhere. The majority of buildings in New Orleans now have at least some termite damage, and the city is forced to spend ridiculous amounts of money each year on termite control. It is estimated that the United States spends roughly one and a half billion dollars every year on termite control, and most of the damage is done by the subterranean termites.
Scientist Claudia Riegal spends her time finding these termites and keeping the city together despite their best efforts to stop her. She uses bait strategically placed to cut off supply lines to the main nests and does her best to keep the termite population as low as possible. Scientists like Miss Riegal know it would be all but impossible to completely get rid of the termite infestation, but many methods like hers are used to kill portions of the population and keep termites from destroying buildings all over the place. Often, a preemptive strike is the most effective way to keep the invaders away. Chemical soil barriers are put around the building to keep the termites out, but once they get in, bait stations like Claudia Riegal’s are often used. Once the colony is believed to be destroyed, modifications to the building can be made such as removing the wood in contact with soil and improving sub-floor ventilation.
To me, it seems as if an infestation like that present in New Orleans seems almost impossible to battle. The only way to keep termites from going place to place is to basically scan the wood to see what is inside, and let’s be honest that is just not going to happen. It is very difficult to tell if there are termites in a home or building until it becomes painfully obvious and once it is that obvious, there is nothing left to do. The methods used by scientists and exterminators are good and effective on a small scale, but it is a constant uphill battle that costs quite a bit of money and man-power.
In the late 1940’s, following World War II, weary Americans set about crating their supplies to ship from Tokyo Bay back to the United States. Inadvertently, they also shipped an invader home with them, the termite. After the crates were disposed of in the south, these silent killers began reproducing and expanding in numbers. Several years later, by the 1960’s, they swarmed homes in New Orleans. Unfortunately, they also had an added advantage over native termite populations. Whereas pesticides and other insecticides can control native populations underground, the Coptotermes formosanus has the ability to live aboveground in trees. In addition, the hot and sticky climate of the south was similar to their native China. Soon, all of New Orleans was infested. Now, up to ten different populations can live in a single city block.
Due to the extreme circumstances, population control is a delicate situation. First, researchers must locate the termites. Claudia Riegel, a researcher trying to eradicate the termite problem in New Orleans, is looking to control their populations by leaving bait stations. Basically, these bait stations are areas where she sticks wood into a tube and routinely checks to see if termites have begun eating this wood. If she finds termites, she removes the wood bait and covers the termites in a chemical they will bring back to the nest; a chemical that has the potential to kill entire communities within three months.
Despite the potential of Riegel’s work, even she admits she is dealing with a problem that is difficult to solve. Although it may take three to five years for a colony to reach the millions of termites that distinguish it from the several hundred thousand found in most native colonies, termites reproduce quickly enough that most preventive measures are useless. In fact, this species of termite has never been completely eradicated from an area. Although it seems that she is doing too little (too late) to make a severe impact on the populations, the fact that she is not introducing other alien species makes her work more appealing. As long as she continues to create bait stations and attract termite populations, her chemical warfare method might be effective in at least limiting the spread of this dangerous alien. At the moment, it seems like the best solution to a problem that has become an endemic for the already struggling New Orleans population. As houses and boats are getting eaten increasingly rapidly, I think this method of population control may be the last chance to save the city from total devastation.
Through the film, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” (2005), director Edward Norton has achieved his goal of promoting awareness of invasive species. Narrating from a neighborhood cul-de-sac, Norton’s explains the local impacts of these micro- and macroscopic organisms. In a series of well-edited sequences, the viewer is transported to a New Orleans invested by termites, a Lake Victoria covered in water hyacinth, and a Hawaii overgrown with miconia. Each location had vivid explanations of what precipitated the infestation, what the result was, and what is currently being done.
A striking observation from each location is how such small human actions could trigger huge ecological ramifications, as shown through flashbacks sequences in the film. A simple foreign plant given as a gift could take over an entire forest. Organisms invisible to the human eye can easily be transported long distances on clothing, shipping cargo, and any mode of transportation they can find. One of the scientists in the film even noted that he was wearing specialized boots to prevent even himself from spreading the species he was studying to foreign areas.
Globalization, as explained by the film, is one of the primary causes of such spreads. Never before had animals had the mobility to cross such vast distances and establish holds in foreign habitats. The skyrocketing rate of world trade expansion has overridden animal migration, natural selection, and adaptation. Foreign species are being haphazardly inserted into ecosystems that can not cope with them. Variety of species is on the decline, and as emphasized in the movie, animals found nowhere else in the world are being out-competed by new invaders.
However, there is still hope. The film outlined several measures used to fight these invaders. Precisely allocated poison was used to kill off swarms of New Orleans termites right in their networks of tunnels. Water Hyacinth in Lake Victoria are being kept off the banks through careful use of risky bio-control. Miconia is being cleared from the forest of Hawaii by organized groups of volunteers and solo environmentalists. With cinematography that is pleasing to the eye, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” (2005) raises an important issue to all species in this new, globalized world.
Coptotermes formosanus, commonly referred to as the Formosan subterranean termite, is an invasive species native to China. The termite species was inadvertently introduced to the United States following World War II in the late 1940s. American troops packed up supplies in Tokyo Bay using crates from Chinese wood, and they were completely unbeknownst to the fact that these crates were infested and overrun by the Formosan termite. Upon arrival in the United States, the crates were discarded carelessly in the trash, allowing the troops of termites to easily infiltrate southern states’ homes and buildings.
This species of termite found its ultimate feeding sites in Louisianan homes by the 1960s, where the local climate perfectly accommodates the termites’ preference for hot, humid weather. C. formosanus thrives specifically in New Orleans for two reasons: the sticky weather is comparable to its native China’s climate, as well as its unique capability to nest both below ground (where termites typically congregate) and above ground in trees. By nesting in trees, the termites remove themselves from the immediate threat of insecticides in the subbasements of houses, while termite exterminators are unable to exactly locate a termite nest’s exact headquarters because they could easily be an any tree within a block of the infested house.
Claudia Riegel and her team of experts have been struggling to eradicate this invasive species from the United States—a goal that Riegel knows is a long-shot and nearly impossible to achieve. First, her team is simply looking to control the termite infestation in New Orleans by attempting to control and manipulate the termites’ path of movement. Because it’s difficult to pinpoint the home nest of a termite mass, Riegel hopes to essentially intercept their trail of destruction by routinely checking the bait stations that are posted across the city for new infestations. When the team finds termites in a station, they remove the wood bait and deposit chemicals that the termites will carry back to the nest. In as little as three months, that Formosan colony’s nest could be poisoned and destroyed.
Because Riegel avoided biocontrol, or introducing a second non-native species to attempt to eradicate the termites, New Orleans will not have to worry about the negative effects a second species may have on the city and its native creatures. The team’s simple, methodical approach is primarily focused on the idea of containment, and then eventually future eradication. Her approach is commendable because it’s noninvasive to the people of New Orleans, as well as sustainable because these bait stations could easily be used for decades to come. Although containment measures have been in effect for years to reduce the populations of Formosan termites, the problem is hardly close to being solved. New Orleans residents reported sightings of the termites, despite the unusually cold 2009-2010 winter season, which apparently only delayed the termites’ annual summer appearance by about two weeks.