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Strangers in a Strange Land / Wildlife from elsewhere now wild on Long Island

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

here.

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

and Brooklyn College. Regarded as agricultural pests in Argentina and Bolivia,

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

leads from eastern Asia to the Bronx Zoo to a small petting zoo in Shirley to

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

whistle.

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

painted turtle.

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.

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