Vacation Reflection: Invasive Species, Quality Time, Sci-Fi Podcasts, Mindset, and Growing with the Flow

I’m just back from vacation, and every time I take a break from my most recent “normal flow” like this I’m amazed at how much of a difference it makes in decreasing burnout and staying my emotions.

My week was spent mostly down the beach, celebrating friends’ birthdays, a wedding, and meeting my sort-of nieces. That’s the “quality time” piece from the title: spending time with the people I love, at a place I love, makes a bigger difference to me than I can describe. I know it’s cliché but the beach is a paradise.

The biggest, most important thing that I’ve started doing for myself is not trying to over-structure quality time. I like to plan things, outings, adventures, but some of the best things happen unplanned.

For instance, that rainbow you see above? My best friend and I got stuck on the beach in the pouring rain. It wasn’t a “perfect beach day” but it’ll go down as one of my best summertime memories. And, yeah, it’s a double rainbow!

I would be remiss if I didn’t consider some by-the-shore biology. This little evergreen is lovingly named Fred; I got him from our local conservation efforts a few years ago. They were giving away saplings for free for locals to plant in their yards; scrub pines, like what we think Fred is, are locals of our beachy neighborhood. I’m so appreciative of the conservatory for helping promote planting these guys!

Now, my dad things Fred might not be a scrub pine because of his shape – I’m still awaiting a verdict! Either way, he’s a shore native.

Now you might be thinking, hey, you mentioned invasive species? Let’s talk spotted lanternflies. These guys are very pretty, and very invasive. But I’m not here to discuss their merits or their beauty; I want to talk about the facts of invasive species themselves.

What are “invasive species”?

An invasive species is one that is not native to an area it is found in. Think murder hornets*, rockfish, and of course, the spotted lanternfly. These species are native to somewhere, just not the area they’ve proliferated in.

The lanternfly, for example, is native to Asia but has been spotted in Pennsylvania in the United States. And, in fact, I saw at least one dead on a beach in New Jersey. (Only one was intact enough for me to be sure of what it was.)

Spotted lanternfly. Courtesy of Entomology Today.

*personally, I think it might be a bit early to refer to murder hornets as invasive to the US. But that’s a conversation for another place and time.

Where do invasive species come from?

An invasive species is outside of it’s normal physical range. But when does a species become “invasive”?

A species outside of its “natural” range can be an invasive species – or, it can not be. Consider that as time progresses on a geological scale, species shift may shift their niches and physical locations. Think: evolution.

Change in location alone does not an invasive species make. According to National Geographic,

“To be invasive, a species must adapt to the new area easily. It must reproduce quickly. It must harm property, the economy, or the native plants and animals of the region. Many invasive species are introduced into a new region accidentally.”

That last part – “Many invasive species are introduced into a new region accidentally” – is incredibly important to the definition of invasive species, I think. Would we call a species that shifts locations over geological time periods and outcompetes species already in its new location “invasive”? Probably not. We’d call that evolution, adaptation. Invasive species are introduced on a quicker time scale and affect a location on a quicker time scale. In fact, they’re introduced by human activity.

What’s the matter with invasive species?

Like many biological concerns, the issue with invasive species has to do with timescale and human action. Notice the words in the definition Nat Geo gives: easily, quickly; property, economy. And as mentioned, invasive species are transported to new areas by people, whether on purpose or by mistake.

Invasive species pose a threat to the environments they invade. If an organism isn’t native to an area, it likely won’t have any predators in that area allowing it a route to easily outcompete local native species. Sometimes an invasive species can pick up a niche in an environment that is currently unoccupied. Invasive species don’t always have to decimate local populations.

To be invasive, a species must adapt to the new area easily. It must reproduce quickly. It must harm property, the economy, or the native plants and animals of the region. Many invasive species are introduced into a new region accidentally.

National Geographic

The specific issue with the spotted lanternfly is that it threatens crops and other plants in the United States. There’s nothing naturally here to fight them off. Citizens of Pennsylvania who see their eggs are encouraged to “help by 1) scraping the eggs off the tree or smooth surface, 2) placing the sample in alcohol or hand sanitizer in a leak-proof container, and 3) submitting the sample to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Entomology lab for verification” (Entomology Today).

Of course, over long epochs new species that spread can also decimate original populations without human assistance. Imagine if a wolf adapted more quickly to hunt humans in a small rural village than the humans could adapt to outrun or outfight the wolf; that would destroy the village population. But evolution takes time, and I mean time.

What can/should we do about invasive species?

I find this an interesting question. It’s pretty much always encouraged to destroy invasive populations. For example, where rockfish have invaded seafood-loving locals are encouraged to order rockfish off the menu. Pennsylvanians are encouraged to kill lanternfly eggs. But I ask: if we caused the problem, why are we blaming the invaders? It’s not like they came here on their own, looking to invade. We carried them here, somehow or other.

I know it sounds hippy-dippy, and I do understand the important of well-balanced ecosystems (duh). However I find it interesting and telling that a problem we ourselves caused is solved by what in any other circumstance fits the definition of cruelty. Especially in the case of the lanternfly, where we aren’t even killing them for the use of eating them; although, arguably, we are killing them to eat by protecting food crops. It’s all complicated.

And, moving on finally from non-native species, my last two vacation reminisces: here is the terrarium my dad and I put together years ago, including a plant in the jade family, a cactus, and aloe – look at the size!

And I finally got myself a set of Posca pens – here’s where the “sci fi podcast” element comes in. I’ve been listening to Night Vale, and gosh am I enjoying it. I had heard of it when it first started up, but honestly forgot until my best friend brought it up. I’ve started doodling some things inspired by the show, including a Radon Canyon poster. ✿

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