With above average summer temperatures predicted, fears have surfaced around sleeper pests becoming a major threat to Bay of Plenty ecosystems.
Sleeper pests are already in the environment, but due to the current climate conditions they are unlikely to breed successfully.
According to Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council, with climate change bringing warmer average temperatures there may be more pest plants producing viable seed and pest animals.
Biosecurity officer Garrick McCarthy says the team is starting to see abandoned and escapee pets reproducing and thriving in environments they previously had been unable to live in.
“We have found viable red-eared slider turtle eggs in Tauranga’s Carmichael Reserve, and a Plecostomus, an ornamental catfish from the Amazon, living in a stormwater drain in Pāpāmoa,” he says.
Council also has video evidence of an eastern water dragon swimming above McLaren Falls.
“With the changing Bay of Plenty climate, these species could have a far greater impact on the environment than ever before,” says Garrick.
“The lack of natural disease or predators means these exotic pets can live longer and raise young in the wild.
“They’re here already, so the risk of them becoming an established pest is very real.”
The Invasive Species Specialist Group has listed the red-eared slider turtle as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.
The turtles are readily available in pet shops throughout New Zealand, but because they can live to be 50 years old, they are often dumped in the wild.
Red-eared slider turtles nest on land in holes which are covered up while the eggs mature. The ground temperature must be warm enough for the eggs to hatch and temperatures also determine the sex. Lower temperatures will produce males, while higher temperatures produce females.
The fear with rising temperatures due to climate change is that eggs will hatch and females will be produced. An adult female can lay up to 150 eggs in one year.
Council say they’re always surveying for potential plant and animal sleeper pests, so that pre-emptive actions can be taken before they cause significant harm to the environment.
However, Garrick says prevention is the best form of biosecurity.
“People should seriously consider whether such a long-lived animal like a red-eared slider turtle is right for them as a pet.
“If it does come to a point where you no longer want your pet reptile or fish, we ask that you do the right thing and rehome them, not release them into the wild.”
Garrick also asks that people report any sightings of the turtles or their nests to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council biosecurity team.
“There is also the potential for other species of exotic bird, reptiles or fish to be a sleeper pest, so if anyone sees something unique or out of place, especially if its spreading or raising young, then please get in touch with us.”
To report pests call: 0800 786 773.
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