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A crazed battle against the crazy ants

At The New York Times Magazine, Jon Mooallem has a story about a fight against an invasive species that began with a man called Mike the Hog-a-Nator shop-vac'd five gallons worth of ants out of his air conditioning ducts. Maggie 21

Italian lizards invade San Pedro

Deborah Netburn, at the L.A. Times, reports on the "complete" takeover of one part of town by a reptilian newcomer, the Italian wall lizard.

The wall lizards arrived in San Pedro in 1994, when a homeowner brought a few of them back from a trip to Sicily. He released four males and three females into his backyard, and they thrived and multiplied. Nearly 20 years later, the Italian wall lizards have almost entirely replaced native lizards in a five-block radius from where they were introduced. "Since I started studying this population, I've seen literally a thousand wall lizards in this area and just two native lizards," says Pauly, 36, who's decked out in a pair of Tevas and a pale blue T-shirt that says, "Newt and Improved." "The takeover feels pretty complete."

Evolution can happen faster than you think

I'm contributing to Voice, a new group column on environmental science at Ensia. My first piece is about those swallows in Nebraska that seem to have adapted to highway traffic and what they can teach us about the speed of evolution and the way invasive species adapt to new homelands.

Are you a pessimist or an optimist when it comes to giant snakes?

Tired of measuring your relative pessimism/optimism by half-empty and half-full glassware? Try this new method, courtesy herpetologist Michael Dorcas. Read the following quote, then decide — is this fact comforting or distressing: "We’ve walked right past a 15-foot python without seeing it." Also potentially relevant to your interests: PBS' 2012 documentary about dissecting a giant python. Maggie

Ant wars: Battle of the invasive species

There's a war on in America, pitting invasive ant against invasive ant in a fight to the finish. It's sort of like Alien vs. Predator, in a way, because whoever wins ... we lose. Argentine ants (the reigning champions) have wiped out native ant species in many of the environments they've invaded over the years, affecting the survival of other animals that used to feed on those ants. Worse, they have a fondness for certain agricultural pests, like aphids. In places with lots of Argentine ants, aphids do very well — and plants do worse.

But now the Argentines are facing a serious challenge in the form of Asian needle ants, another invasive species that — for reasons nobody really understands — have suddenly gone from minor player to major threat in the last decade. The big downside to Asian needle ants: They sting. They sting us. And, right now, it looks like they're winning.

John Roach tells the story at NBC News. But you can get a good idea of what this matchup looks like by checking out the work of insect photographer Alex Wild. That's his picture above, showing an Argentine ant on the left and an Asian needle ant on the right.

If you give a mouse a parachute ...

Humans brought the brown tree snake to Guam about 60 years ago. Since then, the reptiles have slithered their way across the island — devouring whole bird species as they went. The snakes are such a threat to bird life on Guam that authorities have decided to resort to drastic measures. Beginning later this spring, they'll drop an armada of painkiller-spiked dead mice onto the island. One tiny parachute per mouse. The hope is that snakes will eat the mice and OD on painkillers. This is not a joke. Maggie

Invasive species: From the classroom to the creek

A survey of 2000 science teachers in the United States and Canada found that, of those who used live animals in the classroom, 1 in 4 were releasing those animals into the wild afterwards. Why worry about that? Because the animals they reported releasing were often potentially invasive species: including crawdads, amphibians, and aquatic plants. The survey results don't show a massive trend here, but it's something to think about, given that teachers are not usually considered when state agencies create programs to prevent invasive species release. Maggie