Eating Aliens: One Mans Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species

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The difference is motivation, not capability. The passenger pigeon is an example of an animal people have killed and eaten into extinction. In , the passenger pigeon was the most plentiful bird in the Americas and perhaps in the world. There were billions of them in North America alone.

One hundred and fourteen years later, there was just one — one pigeon, named Martha, who died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo in What happened? People happened.

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In their vast flocks, numbering in the millions, pigeons could be shot in great numbers by market hunters, who sold the meat to grocers. Passenger pigeon became the least expensive meat you could buy; it was the chicken of its day. In the absence of bag limits and meaningful hunting regulations, there was no check on the desire for personal gain that motivated the shooting.

What would have happened if nobody wanted to eat passenger pigeons? Can this human ability to harvest wild food in dangerously efficient ways be harnessed for a good ecological cause?

Eating Aliens: One Man’s Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species by Jackson Landers | TCPL

I believe it can. Really, what we choose to eat is often a matter of perspective and tradition rather than an informed judgment based on what something tastes like. Most of these problem species have either previously been considered to be good eating by humans or still are by people in other parts of the world. Asian carp is a beloved food in China.

Iguanas have been eaten as a staple protein in most of their native range — from Mexico to Brazil — for thousands of years. Fortunately, there is a precedent for Americans doing a complete about-face on the suitability of odd-looking creatures for food. During colonial times, lobsters were considered edible only by the most desperate segments of the population. Household servants would include provisions in their contracts stating that they could not be fed lobster more than four times a week.

Today, lobster sells for around ten dollars a pound at the grocery store — more than most cuts of beef. What transformed lobster from peasant food into a delicacy was simply a change in perspective. By hunting and eating invasive animals, we can help restore habitat for native species, as well as reduce our dependence on factory-farmed meat and eat more locally, thus decreasing the costs associated with transportation odds are, there are edible invasives to be found close to your own home.

In other cases, only a grassroots effort by dedicated locavores will be practical. As a professional hunting instructor who teaches adult beginners and grew up in a vegetarian household, I have a lot of sympathy for people who are slowly warming up to the idea of killing for food.

Making the leap changed my life, and it could change yours, too. While writing this book, I spent about sixteen months traveling around the United States and the Caribbean, hunting and fishing for invasive species. In the beginning, I thought I was hitting the road simply to find and eat invasive wildlife. It usually turned out that the bigger issues were with human beings.

Human activity has caused the introduction of many invasive species that threaten the survival of native wildlife. Every invasive species is native somewhere, and in most cases that is the place where we should have left it. I wish I never had to kill another living thing, George remarked, a serious look on his broad, suntanned face.

The only thing worse than having to kill sixteen thousand iguanas would be watching all of these other animals go extinct. Not fitting into either of these categories, I nevertheless found myself in the Florida sun at noon, on Gasparilla Island, improbably riding shotgun in a golf cart while hiding a pellet rifle under my backpack as we drove past the vacation home of George W.

There was, in fact, an Englishman a journalist named Jeff Latham sitting in the backseat, but no mad dogs were in sight. Our prey was the black spiny-tailed iguana. The golf cart was piloted by George Cera, professional hunter and trapper of nuisance animals. George likes to refer to the spiny-tail as a ctenosaur TEEN-a-sore , which makes sense for two reasons.

Its scaly head, sharp teeth, and short crest along the top of its back make it look like something from the Jurassic period. The spiny-tailed iguana is a distant relative of the better-known green iguana, which is frequently kept as a pet. Their silhouettes are somewhat similar in profile, but the black-and- gray coloring of the adult spiny-tailed iguana immediately sets it apart. The two are further differentiated by their eating habits.


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The green is almost exclusively an herbivore; the spiny-tail is an omnivore. Because the male tops out at almost five feet long , quite a lot of things are small enough for it to ingest. The spiny-tail is well equipped to have its way with other creatures.

Its weaponry consists chiefly of a row of very sharp front teeth, which are angled steeply back into the mouth to hold on to whatever it can grab. Those scutes are sharp enough that they can draw blood even when the lizard is dead. The spiny-tail also uses its weaponry to claim its living space.

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It likes to sleep and hide in holes, and will dig one for itself if it must, but it prefers one that some other animal has already dug, and then makes arrangements for its use. That often consists of biting the hell out of its former owner. If possible, the invader will eat the occupant and its offspring. The spiny-tailed iguanas on Gasparilla Island are descended from a handful that were deliberately released by an exotic-pet owner who was no longer willing to take care of them.

A very apologetic gentleman has admitted to being the culprit about thirty years ago. This is a confession that has, unfortunately, been repeated with many different species by pet owners in Florida. An animal may become too large or aggressive to care for, or perhaps the owner is moving to a place that prohibits pets. Unwilling to euthanize what was a pet, the owner releases it in a patch of woods and hopes for the best. If this were to happen in New Jersey, say, that lizard or snake or other exotic animal would probably have an exciting summer before falling asleep on a cold day in October or November and never waking up.

Initially, the iguanas were a novel delight to watch creeping around gardens, and they became a constant presence on every block of Boca Grande the town in which we were hunting.

Most Invasive Species in Florida

This problem prompted the town officials of Boca Grande to hire George. What he found when he started hunting the iguanas was something far more sinister than damage to ornamental plants. George, Jeff, and I drove a few blocks farther, occasionally slowing down as we passed empty vacation homes where George had permission to hunt iguanas. We paused for a few minutes in front of a large yard to watch a pair of big males sunning themselves. Suddenly, one of the lizards leapt into the air at a shocking speed and grabbed what looked to be a small brown anole a smaller species of lizard off the side of a stump.

This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue? Upload Sign In Join. Home Books Science. Save For Later. Create a List. Summary North America is under attack by a wide range of invasive animals, pushing native breeds to the brink of extinction. Now he hunts and butchers much of his own meat. In Florida, he encounters and eats black spiny-tailed iguanas, wild tilapia and plecostomus, a sucker fish commonly seen in freshwater aquariums.

After he started eating meat regularly, Landers figured it would be wrong to continue the practice if he recoiled when he had to touch it raw. He felt it was only ethical to learn how to hunt if he was going to continue to eat animals.


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As Landers became more comfortable with hunting, he also learned about the natural ecosystems where he lives in Virginia—and how these ecosystems were threatened by invasive species. He wanted to take action:. What I have to offer is to hunt. In many parts of the state, iguanas up to six feet long devour every plant in sight.

With no local predators adapted to eating them, they reproduce unchecked. However Landers is optimistic about what would seem to be a depressing human trait: Driven by insatiable appetites, people can be quite adept at destroying things. That kind of destructive behavior can be harnessed for a good purpose. Landers points to the passenger pigeon as an example. When hunters realized they could easily shoot numerous pigeons and then sell them to grocers, the bird became a popular and inexpensive meat, like chicken.

By , there was only one passenger pigeon left at the Cincinnati Zoo. When that pigeon died, the species was extinct. Granted, a pigeon seems more appetizing to some than say, iguana or Nile monitor, but tastes can change. Branding can accelerate that change. Have you eaten any Patagonian toothfish lately?

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Of course, Americans are generally more comfortable eating fish and fowl than reptiles. This is where Landers comes in. He wants to help familiarize Americans with other perfectly tasty, if less glamorous, invasive species like the black spiny-tailed iguana.