Somewhere between our black and white perceptions of stray
cats that kill for sport and harmless Italian wall lizards, a handful of
foreign animals on Long Island dwell in shades of gray. Some are undoubtedly
nuisances or even hazards, while others are merely displaced, whether from
another country or another state. Most of their fellow aliens die soon after
being dumped or discarded - South American boa constrictors, African frogs and
European rabbits among them. The survivors that have established populations
here, however firm or tenuous, however welcome or burdensome, all share a
common link. They all have infiltrated our natural world because we put them
MUTE SWAN: Natives of Eurasia, mute swans established wild populations across
the United States after being brought over from Europe in the 19th century.
These beautiful bruisers weigh an average of 22 pounds. Their voracious
appetites for aquatic plants can inflict significant damage to local ecosystems
such as Long Island Sound; they mostly live in sheltered bays and freshwater
areas such as Fresh Pond in Fort Salonga, migrating to marine water in winter
if freshwater spots freeze over. They also destroy nests of native species such
as the least tern, the American black duck and the tundra swan, which mute
swans have crowded out of local breeding areas.
MOND PARAKEET: These 11- to 12-inch-long green exotics - also known as quaker
parakeets - came to New York about 30 years ago, when they were imported as
pets in large quantities from South America. Since then they have been spotted
on power lines near the Belmont Race Track in Elmont and around Kennedy Airport
here monk parakeets eat the same foods and appear to occupy the ecological
niche vacated by the now-extinct Northern Carolina parakeet, which visited here
but did not nest.
SIKA DEER: The circuitous route of Long Island's small sika deer population
the nearby Hard Estate in Southaven. When the estate's hunting reserve became
Southaven County park in the 1960s, the introduced sika deer remained in the
marshy areas and the population has fluctuated between 20 and 50 ever since.
The short and stocky deer, actually more closely related to elk, have never
interbred with their distant Long Island relatives. And instead of raising
their tails to warn of danger, sika deer flare their ample white rumps, or
RED-EARED SLIDER: Widely available from Long Island pet stores and Manhattan
sidewalk vendors, red-eared sliders are often irresistible as one-ounce babies,
but often unmanageable as three-pound adults requiring expensive tanks and
proper filtration. Dumping captive turtles into the wild is illegal in New
York, but that hasn't stopped the Southern natives from showing up in Long
Island ponds. Biologists fear the increasingly ubiquitous sliders could spread
parasites to wild turtle populations or push out native species such as the
FERAL TURKEY: While their authentically wild counterpart, the Eastern wild
turkey, was reintroduced to Suffolk County in 1992 and 1993 by the state, the
gobblers meandering around parts of Oakdale most likely escapted from poultry
farms. Bred for Thanksgiving tables, these game birds on the lam tend to be
larger-bodied than the Eastern wild turkey, and their rump and tail feathers
are tipped with white instead of with cinnamon and chocolate.
GOLDFISH: Long Island is dotted with temporary ponds that periodically fill and
dry, offering a haven for salamander, frog and toad larvae that would
otherwise fall prey to fish. But humans have introduced a snag. Dumped goldfish
have been spotted in at least two ephemeral ponds in Brookhaven, while the
Asian natives have been joined by everything from bullheads to bluegills in
other Long Island pools. The fish die when the water drains, but sometimes not
before depleting the pond of its amphibian life.
SOURCES: Mark Lowery, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation;
John Bianchi, National Aubudon Society, Hugh McGuinness; Marc Morrone, Parrots
of the World; Heidi Hoefer, Susan Chamberlain, Long Island Parrot Society;
Jeremy Feinberg, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Norm Soule, Cold Spring Harbor
Fish Hatchery and Aquarium; Lori Green, Turtle Homes; Bud Corwin, Russell
Burke, Hofstra University; Maryland Department of Natural Resources.