A press release about non-native species encroaching into new territory and wreaking havoc recently landed in my email. The headline was “Alien frog invasion wreaks havoc on natural habitat.” Does that not sound like a science fiction story?
Here are the basics of the story and some suggestions for how you might use them in a fictional tale of your own.
The introduction of new species to an established ecosystem can have devastating effects on indigenous life. This concept has played itself out many times overall around the world. My most personal experience with this process was when I volunteered at a local wildlife rescue center in Sonoma County, Calif. If someone reported a wounded or ill opossum, they wouldn’t respond. Opossums are an invading species to that county that has been displacing indigenous species and is therefore not welcome.
In the case of the aforementioned alien frog invasion is playing out in Streaky Bay, South Australia. The invasive amphibian is Litoria cyclorhyncha, also known as the spotted-thighed frog. This carnivorous tree frog “is an indiscriminate eating machine that will devour just about anything it can fit into its mouth,” says Christine Taylor, an ecology expert from the University of South Australia.
“We’re talking about a relatively large, predatory tree frog that, as a species is alien to South Australia, and it could have devastating impact on invaded habitats.
“As it eats away at local species, it’s impacting the natural ecosystem, which can displace or destroy local food webs, outcompete native birds, reptiles, and mammals for resources, and potentially change natural biodiversity.”
This assertion comes for a study published in the Australian Journal of Zoology. Researchers examined the stomach contents of 76 spotted-thighed frogs across three habitats – an artificial wetland, seminatural bushland, and an urban setting.
On average, each frog had at least six prey items in its stomach, with prey estimated to include 200 different species, 60 percent of which were beetles, spiders, and insects. Native geckos, young frogs, and mice were also identified as prey. This is the first study of the spotted-thighed frog’s diet in its invaded range.
Taylor’s colleague, Associate Professor Gunnar Keppel, also of the University of South Australia, warns that if the spread of the spotted-thighed frog is not kept under control they could dominate many ecosystems in south-east Australia, at the expense of the local flora and fauna.
“The spotted-thighed frog is obviously very mobile. Already it’s managed to travel more than 2,000 kilometers [1,242 miles] and set up a colony in Streaky Bay. But its considerable tolerance of salinity and potential ability to withstand high temperatures could lead to further geographic spread,” he says.
Writing Prompts Based on an Alien Frog Invasion
There are lots of science fiction and horror stories that use the underlying idea of invading species, however most of the ones that come to mind layer in a sentient agenda. For example Independence Day (1996), The Arrival (1996), and Falling Skies (2011-2015). Most of these have negative consequences for the human race, but there are stories where we learn to get along, as well, such as Alien Nation (film, 1988; TV series, 1989-1990).
But as implied in the alien frog invasion case above, sometimes species invade for no other purpose than to expand their food source. You could argue that that’s what European’s did when they started colonizing Africa and the Americas.
So how can you use the concepts above to write original science fiction or horror stories of your own?
What if …
- A non-sentient species found a good foraging ground on Earth? Perhaps they hitchhiked here on an asteroid, an Earth exploration ship returning from a mission to another planet, or even aboard a visiting alien ship. Your life form could be viral, which has been touched on before, or it could be something more innocuous, such as an amphibian-like creature. Star Trek hinted at this with the “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
- We accidentally introduced a species to another planet? Rats have been known to hitchhike on ocean ships, so it is possible they could eventually find their way on a space ship. We land, they get off and it turns out that they are better adapted to the new planet than the indigenous life (much like the opossum I mentioned above). What do we do? Do we try to fix the problem we caused? What if we leave before we discover the accidental invasion? You could tell a story of how the local sentient life deals with the situation. Or you could tell a tale of how we go back to the planet only to discover the devastation we inadvertently wrought.
- We colonized a new planet and had been there for a few years when suddenly a creature from another area of the planet starts to invade because our activities made the land we colonized more appealing than how we originally found it? Perhaps we put our stake in the ground of a barren area. Our farming could make the land much more appealing to creatures that couldn’t make use of barren land. Or perhaps we start chopping down local flora, opening space for adjacent fauna to move in.
Check out more writing prompts inspired by actual science stories in my “Writing Prompts” category.