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Turkey troubles and cantankerous crustaceans

by Ariana Remmel
November 21, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 45


Jailbird evicted from public garden

A stock image of a wild male turkey.
Credit: Shutterstock
Formidable fowl: Wild turkeys are terrifying when they attack.

The risk of being Thanksgiving dinner didn’t stop an aggressive turkey named Gerald from a rose garden rampage earlier this year.

Gerald spent the summer tormenting visitors of Morcom Rose Garden in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland, California. After a 5-month reign of terror, authorities finally apprehended the belligerent bird on Oct. 22, reports Alix Martichoux of ABC7 News.

Gerald the turkey was regarded fondly by his neighbors until he began attacking the Rose Garden’s visitors, even prompting the garden to close for a short period in June for visitors’ safety.

“I swear I was getting flashbacks to the velociraptor scenes in ‘Jurassic Park’ as he was ‘cooing’ at me, sizing me up,” one bird-bullied visitor wrote to Oakland Animal Services, according to the ABC7 report. “And before you laugh at all this, I’m telling you he was relentless!” But rather than exact capital punishment on the feathered fiend, 6,000 Grand Lake residents signed a petition to have California Department of Fish and Wildlife relocate Gerald to a more suitable habitat.

Rebecca Dmytryk of Humane Wildlife Control in Moss Landing, California, was called to the scene. Disguised as a frail, older woman—a favorite target of the fearsome fowl—Dmytryk told ABC7 News that she enticed Gerald to attack with “blueberries, kibble and sunflower seeds.” Her rescue team pounced on the unsuspecting galliform and later released Gerald in the East Bay hills. Experts told ABC7 News that Gerald’s terrible transformation is likely the consequence of humans feeding him and thus confusing the turkey’s worldview. Jailbird Gerald’s story should be a cautionary tale about how human incursion into natural spaces can have unfortunate outcomes for wildlife.


Invasion of the clones

A marbled crayfish in a tank after being captured.
Credit: Thomas Abeel
Look-alikes: These female-only crayfish reproduce by cloning themselves.

Marbled crayfish have invaded Belgium. Thanks to a mutation, these creepy crustaceans are all female and clone themselves to reproduce, a phenomenon called parthenogenesis.

These crayfish scurry across land in the dead of night to infest new territory and burrow underground for months without water if their habitat is threatened. They also eat everything in sight, which wreaks havoc on natural ecosystems and threatens the only crayfish species native to Belgium.

A research team led by Kevin Scheers, an ecologist with Belgium’s Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), tells Newscripts that the invader, called Procambarus virginalis, has been observed in four sites across the country, including a cemetery in Antwerp. Scheers first realized there might be a problem when he saw a marbled crayfish photo misidentified on a citizen science website called Scheers and his team followed up with an excursion into the field, where they caught specimens and took DNA samples. That confirmed the invasion.

“This is not a species that exists in the wild,” Scheers tells Newscripts. The closest relatives of these creepy crawlers are native to Florida; they got picked up by the German aquarium trade and mutated while in captivity. The newly discovered populations likely grew out of a jailbreak from a hobbyist’s tank. “They’re extremely difficult if not impossible to get rid of,” Scheers says.

That’s one reason this pesky transplant is on the European Union’s invasive-species blacklist. Tim Adriaens is an ecologist at INBO who is coordinating the Belgian response to the crustacean invasion. “First we have to set up surveillance systems,” he tells Newscripts. Adriaens hopes to train a network of citizen scientists to pick up the trail of the sneaky intruders by collecting water samples across Belgium. These samples will be analyzed for traces of DNA left behind by the elusive culprits. That analysis will help authorities understand the scale of the incursion and design appropriate interventions to prevent a marbled crayfish takeover of Belgium and its neighbors.

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