It is common for North American school children to have class pets, though few consider what happens to those animals at the end of the school year. A recent survey of almost 2,000 educators found that a quarter of teachers using live organisms with their students release those animals into the wild when the unit is completed. Unfortunately, only 10 percent work with a planned release program.

While many of these teachers likely have good intentions, hoping the former pets will acclimate to their new habitats, the result is often the inadvertent spread of invasive species, including crayfish, amphibians and aquatic plants. When these organisms are not in their native climates, they often negatively impact their new ecosystems.

According to the principal investigator of the study, Sam Chan, teachers need to educate themselves as well as their students and put more thought into where the creatures will go once the lessons have been finished.

“We need to work through the whole chain and educate both the teachers and suppliers about the potential damages — both environmental and economic — that invasive species may trigger,” Chan said.

Many of the teachers surveyed were horrified to learn about the problems they are creating. Reactions from suppliers were mixed – some did not see it as their responsibility, while others agreed to look into providing local organisms over foreign ones to their customers.

Main photo credit: Public Domain Image