Kylo Ren, murderous new supreme leader of the First Order, may seem like the biggest threat to the galaxy — but he might have nothing on an invasive species. That’s right. What if the real villains of The Last Jedi… are porgs?
Species moved outside of their native range, to new places and habitats, are called alien species (even here on Earth!). On occasion, these alien species have the right combination of traits to become invasive, doing damage to the environment, causing problems for humans, or both. Take the Australian cane toad. Farmers brought them to Australia from Hawaii in the 1930s, thinking them an ally in their battle with a beetle that was destroying crops. (Cane toads’ native range is from the southern US to South America.) They chose the wrong ally. The toxic toads didn’t reduce the number of beetles. Instead, they increased in number, and, being a delicious-looking toad, have caused population declines in a number of Australian predators that have been tempted to eat them. Across the globe, there are hundreds of stories like this one: brown tree snakes on Guam, foxes in Australia, and even the adorable hedgehog is a problematic invasive species in New Zealand, where it eats rare bird eggs.
Of course, not all species introduced to new habitats become a problem. According to Mike Cove, a postdoctoral student at North Carolina State University, scientists subscribe to the “Rule of 10.” This rule states that if 100 alien species were brought into a new area, only 10 species would survive the move. And just one species would cause problems, potentially wreaking havoc across entire habitats.
There are certain characteristics that make species more likely to become invasive: having a lot of babies quickly, being able to move long distances, not being a picky eater, and being able to live close to people. Does this sound like a certain cute, cuddly creature from Star Wars? Porgs quickly claimed the Millennium Falcon for porgkind, disrupting Chewie’s attempts to contact the Resistance and nesting in the hallway. In addition, they must have a flexible diet to survive aboard the ship. Finally, they can fly.
“The most likely candidates to become invasive species would be those found around space ports, as they are most likely to be picked up and transported somewhere new,” says professor Tim Blackburn, an invasive species researcher at the Center for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London, in an interview. Although there are no certainty that porgs would become invasive, if they did, there could be some very damaging impacts, Blackburn says. “Porgs might decimate some native fish if there were no porg-like predators already present.”
But porgs aren’t the only possibly invasive species in that galaxy far, far away. In A New Hope, Luke, Leia, and Han are attacked by a dianoga, an octopus-like animal that is transported across the galaxy as microscopic larvae in the garbage compactors of spaceships. This has some parallels with some of the zebra and quagga mussels here on Earth. Originally from Russia and Ukraine, tiny baby mussels (called veligers) were sucked up along with ballast water in large cargo ships and then unknowingly dumped in the Great Lakes.
“The mussels attached to… well, pretty much everything, including water intake pipes, which has resulted in millions of dollars’ worth of physical damage to infrastructure,” says Katherine O’Reilly, a PhD student at the University of Notre Dame, in an email. “As they have reached incredibly high densities throughout the Great Lakes, they have dramatically changed the ecosystem.”
And rathtars, the aggressive species Han Solo was hauling when he met Rey and Finn in The Force Awakens, are prized by collectors, much like a number of species spread through the pet trade that then either escape or are released here on Earth. In some cases, these animals are released on purpose by people who are dubbed “bucket biologists,” writes Megan Gunn, an aquatic ecologist at Purdue University, in a direct message. Bucket biologists were responsible for the release of pythons in Florida, leading to a slowly growing, well-hidden population of massive snakes that are devastating native Floridian wildlife. Rathtars, unlike pythons, have babies by splitting apart, a reproductive strategy that could quickly lead to a population explosion. Let’s hope no in-universe rathtar collector decides to be a bucket biologist; one feral rathtar could decimate a planet’s ecosystems within a year.
Not all invasive species are large and terrifying. Tribbles from Star Trek created mayhem despite being incredibly cute and fluffy, much like one of Earth’s most problematic invasives, the domestic cat. Our sweet, cuddly felines have eaten a number of species to extinction around the world and killed billions of wild animals annually in the US alone. Despite this, cats remain an adorable internet favorite.
Sound familiar? Take the long view: the sweet, fluffy porgs, with their adorable huge eyes, their ability to quickly adapt to new environments, and flying capabilities could be more of a threat to most planets than Supreme Leader Kylo Ren. Who knows, if they start eating spaceship parts, they might even bring down the Resistance.
Correction: The original version of this article misstated the cane toads’ origin. While the cane toads that came to Australia are from Hawaii, as this article originally stated, they weren’t native there either. Their original range has been added.