Those Silent Invaders


When I visited my vegetable garden this morning, there was a Gypsy Moth caterpillar cheerfully devouring my kale. There he sat without a care in the world, doing what Gypsy Caterpillars do best and destroying my garden!

Hard to believe that this menace to gardens, trees, shrubs, flowers and anything that grows was actually invited to come to the United States, but it’s the awful truth. Merchants imported the Gypsy Moth in the hopes of producing domestic silk. Unfortunately, many of the moths escaped to become Public Enemy #1 to  gardeners across the country.

A bug or an innocuous plant might not look like fearsome invaders, but many are just that. Imported ornamental flowers, plants and trees often grow so well that they crowd their native colleagues out of existence. Weeds that aren’t native to a country take hold and grow like—well, weeds.

Take kudzu. An import from Japan, kudzu was touted at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition as being a fine-looking, fast growing plant that could help with soil erosions. It arrived in the south, took root, and rapidly proceeded to envelop every surface it could find. Barns, trees, fences—you name it— were covered in jungle-green during the summer and in awful brown vines during the winter.  No possible good could be found in the thing (kudzu jelly, anyone?), so the kudzu bug—when it accidentally arrived on our shores—was considered the answer to a prayer. Alas for the hopes of mice and men! Only 3.5mm in length, olive green with brown speckles, this highly mobile varmint has already made heavy inroads into the soybean crops of farmers in at least four North Carolina counties. It can be encountered almost everywhere, now. If stepped on, kudzu bugs give off a particularly nasty odor and if mashed with bare feet will cause blisters. There’s currently speculation of possibly importing the Paratelenomus saccharalis, a tiny black wasp from Japan to deal with the beastly bug, but there’s  fear that the solution may lead to even more problems.

Of course, some imports are harmless and absolutely beautiful, but a significant number cause more problems than they solve.  In Turkey, large Guineafowls were brought in from Africa to kill off the ticks that were considered carriers of disease. Instead of doing their job, though, the birds have not only refused to eat the ticks (really, who would want to eat ticks?) but are also actually helping them to spread! And in another part of the world, ‘spread’ is perhaps too mild a word to describe the population explosion of Australia’s rabbits. Introduced into that country by an English farmer called Thomas Austin,  the rabbit population has grown so huge that it has not only caused soil erosion but contributed to the demise of much species loss in Australia.

Closer to home in the Everglades, the once vibrant wetland ecosystem is having problems because ‘introduced’ fish species are doing better than the native fish. In the Great Lakes, zebra mussels have made a mess by clogging up water systems. In Hawaii, rats, sheep, cats, goats—all introduced by Polynesians and Europeans—have effectively and completely done away with some of that island’s wildlife. And in California, a fly which had been studied for possibly introduction to control a plant called yellow starthistle escaped and proceeded to damage California safflower crops.

This is just a tiny tip of the iceberg, of course. Invaders seize any chance to travel.  Some species can arrive in a ship’s ballast water or in imported products, but they don’t have to be imported; they can even migrate, uninvited, from ecosystems in different neighborhoods. Whether invited or not, the quiet invaders among us continue to cause mischief. To paraphrase the Bard, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we set out to deceive Mother Nature!”

Small caterpillar

looks so gentle and harmless…

It loves my garden!



About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: My blog is here: Or friend me on Facebook!

14 responses »

  1. Maureen,
    TheGypsy Moth in your garden is now a celebrity. Its fame will be spread far and wide. Next time you spot your moth, expect to see it wearing sunshades and autographing kale.

    I really do sympathize, even if my humor is”in bad taste” and doesn’t reflect it. We’ve probably all had something we cultivated eaten by an insect or some other wildlife. I know I have.

      • I smell a picture book or story about a famous gypsy moth who longs for days as a caterpillar again. That’s one way to work out your frustrations and maybe add a little jingle to your pocket. What do you say? If nothing else, I hope I brought a smile to your face.

  2. How right you are, Maureen. Our garden has a number of invaders that have managed to overwhelm some of our plants and flowers. We must learn that every attempt we make to interfere with our natural world has ramifications we can only begin to comprehend. It is daunting to think of the damage that may be unintended but nevertheless can be caused by unsettling the natural world.

  3. It’s interesting that some of our ‘invaders’ are human… tourists who unwittingly (or knowingly) damage ecosystems as they visit foreign parts…. I guess we all have to be careful not to be ‘invaders.’
    Thanks for always reading, Fran!!

  4. A delight to find the gypsy moth caterpillar, kudzu, frog and other
    varmints in my mailbox this morning. Thank you for all. Love, Sue

  5. hi Maureen, missed you at quilting this week.
    i have a story or two about invaders. When we lived in Michigan, we had a cottage up north at the hihgh point of the northern tip.. We drove into our yard one summer to find a whole wall of our garage covered with gypsy moths. and some of the trees infested as well.
    Shocked at this, we went to search for information about these brown wooly looking creatures. it seems , they invaded our state and this was an infestation that was quite wide spread that season. W e did the appropriate way of getting rid of them. as best we were informed would end their occupation. but this infestation across our state lasted for a few summers. before they just disappeared.!
    one other funny thing happened this last week.
    We are tearing out our downstairs bath. and the possible leaving of door open to the backyard. left open for a few moments allowed the visit of a tiny frog into Jen’s new bedroom. it was a baby. and very green… like your picture above. so sweet. she found him or her and returned it to a likely place in the woods near our garden.

    • I also want to mention that the haikus and that marvelous quilt were just what was needed on this rainy, dark morning. Thanks so much Maureen for enlightening and entertaining us.

    • I love that you returned the little frog to the woods, Donna! As for the gypsy moths… they seem to produce tons of those nasty caterpillars!
      I am sorry I missed you at quilting, but maybe at Bridget’s?
      love, Maureen

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