Canadian Invaders

Much has been made of the issue of invasive species in Canada. However, in all our fussing over species which have invaded our land, I never gave any thought to the situation going the other way.  Hence :

Castor canadensis

The first I’d ever heard of a Canadian species invading other lands was from a documentary on beavers a few years ago.  In 1946, twenty-five pairs of Canadian beavers were introduced to a remote archipelago (Tierra del Fuego) off the southern coast of South America.  This landmass is politically split between Chile and Argentina. The beavers were planted by the Argentine Navy on their side of the archipelago to generate commercial fur trading operations, providing income and industry, to the sparsely populated Argentine side. In less than sixty years, and with no natural predatory control, the population went from 50 animals to 200,000.

Unimpeded by the freezing, oceanic waters of the Straits of Magellan, they made mainland landfall on Patagonia (not before invading the Chilean claimed side of the archipelago) by 1998. Now the problem has been “brought to the front door” of the Argentinians. Desperate attempts are being made to bring them under control.  Their pelts are virtually worthless now as the European Economic Community won’t allow them to be imported.  The Argentine Government can’t afford to eradicate them without some kind of incentive, so they continue their march across the continent.  Compounding the issue is the fact that, as destructive as they are, tourists love the adorable, industrious little beasties.  Kinda like, as much as we know purple loosestrife is an invasive and problematic species … it sure is pretty.

As well, there were Canadian beavers introduced to Finland 1937 to replace the exterminated European Beaver.  By the 1950s they’d invaded Northern Russia where there are now at least 20,000 Canadian beavers, moving South.  The main difference between the European and the Canadian beaver is that ours build massive dams, changing the ecosystem.  But not to worry, the Russians won’t hold that against us.  They themselves, successfully introduced the Canadian beaver on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the late 1970s which are now heading West.

Sciurus carolinensis

The celebrated Grey Squirrel.  We love to watch them, and their crazy antics.  We love their gorgeous huge fluffy tails and their faces, quite capable of emotional expression.   So did the Victorian English, who introduced them to the UK in 1876, much to the detriment of the native Red Squirrel.  Our Grey Squirrels, are larger, stronger, can digest acorns more efficiently, and are immune to (but carriers of) a Squirrel Pox virus which the native Red Squirrel is not.  The British Government just recently scrapped a 140 year-old law requiring residents report the presence of Grey Squirrels in their gardens.  Probably just as well.  With an estimated 2.5 million of them vs. an estimated 13,000 native Reds left …

There are also known populations in Italy.  That’s mainland Europe, and that’s gonna be a problem.

Elodea canadensis 

Supposedly introduced to Ireland on a log imported from Canada in 1836, Canadian Pondweed has run rampant over native species in the UK and most of Europe.  The sad part is that not only is it considered by the British as a naturalized species now (ie – give up and live with it), it’s considered “the lesser of three evils” concerning 2 other invasive species from elsewhere.  They actually recommend landowners not eradicate it, as it’s considered better than the other 2 invaders which will most certainly overthrow the native species if Canadian Pondweed isn’t there to force the other 2 out.  Confusing ? Yes.  Sad ? Yes.

Procyon lotor 

Why am I not surprised that my old buddy, the raccoon, is a total A-Hole all over the World ? In the 1920s, breeding pairs of raccoons were imported to Germany for their fur.  By the 1930s, a few escaped.  Today, there’s some half a million of them in Germany alone (where it was a protected species for some odd reason), and some have crossed the Alps into Southern Europe (so there goes the neighbourhood).

Even more bizarre is the story of the raccoon’s invasion of Japan.  It’s apparently been blamed on a Disney cartoon from the ‘70’s.  The Japanese love their anime, and there was a popular cartoon featuring a raccoon and a boy.  Over 1,500 raccoons were being imported annually at the height of the cartoons’ broadcast.  By the time the Government realized the problem and banned the importation and ownership of the animals, it was too late, the damage was done.

Micropterus salmoides & dolomieu

Seems everyone loves bass. Even the wife will rave over the fight they’ll put up on the end of a fishing line. We’ve all heard anglers sing the praises of bass I can understand why both large and smallmouth bass are serious invaders in Europe now.

Lepomis gibbosus

Good old Pumpkinseed sunfish, entertaining children on docks for centuries.  They’ll bite anything, feed all day long, can survive almost any conditions, and they’re colourful and pretty.  That’s how they became a problem in Europe where they were introduced as a potential sport and ornamental pondfish in the 1900s. They were also introduced as prey for native European fish which were being over-powered by previously introduced bass, pike, and catfish from North America.  Yeah, I had trouble wrapping my head around that one too.

In 1960, fifteen pumpkinseed sunfish presented as a gift to the Japanese Government by the Mayor of Chicago were released into the wild in both Japan and Korea.  They achieved invasive species status by 2000.

Ondatra zibethicus 

Muskrats were introduced into Europe in numerous locations from the late 1800s to the early 1900s for fur and sport hunting. Later introductions were from earlier established (and later to become problematic) introductions to European locations.  ie) They infected themselves from previous deliberate infections.  Funny critters … us humans.

Mustela vison 

The American mink.  Same story, different beast.

There are an awful lot more examples.  More than I’d ever have imagined. So, on your next globe-trotting excursion, sailing past Cape Horn, cruising up the Rhine, bullet-training into Tokyo, stopping in for a pint of Guinness, or viewing St Peter’s Cathedral, gave a wave to the fellow Canadians who’ve been trotting the globe long before you.



  1. maybe they just want to come home


    1. As far as the beasties are concerned, they ARE home. However, I’m sure the host countries wish they would go back to where they came from. Just like I wish dog-strangling vine would go Home.


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