It startled her. She jumped, let out a yelp, and took off down a hall. Wilde wasn’t running for her life; she was amazed by a discovery. She had uncovered a bacteria, one with a powerful toxin that attacked waterfowl, hiding on the underside of an aquatic leaf that grows nearly everywhere in the United States, including the Chesapeake Bay.
After 20 years of testing determined that the bacteria had never before been recorded, and the brain lesions it cause had never before been found before that night in 1994, Wilde recently gave her discovery a name: Aetokthonos hydrillicola. The Greek word means “eagle killer” for its ability to quickly kill the birds of prey. It’s the latest threat to a raptor that is starting to flourish after being removed from the endangered species list.
Across the South, near reservoirs full of invasive plants from Asia called hydrilla, eagles have been stricken by this bacteria, which goes straight to their brains. Eagles prey on American coots, which dine almost exclusively on hydrilla.
Before now, reservoirs that serve up a buffet of this plant were considered beneficial because they helped fuel the annual migration of coots from Canada to Florida and beyond, while also feeding eagles. But now the reservoirs are “death traps,” said Wilde, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia whose study of the topic was recently published in the journal Phytotaxa. In Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, coots, shorebirds, ducks and eagles are dying by the dozens from the incurable lesions.
“We’re attracting them to places where they’re going to die, and that’s not a good thing,” Wilde said.
I’m sure Republicans will be quite favorably to relisting the bald eagle under the Endangered Species Act so I feel great that this will turn out well.