You’re never far from a road in Pennsylvania. Fifty-eight percent of forested habitat lies within 300 meters of a road or permanent opening, such as a Starbucks parking lot. As a result, our wild areas are uniquely vulnerable to invasions of non-native, exotic species of all types. Ever since last month’s discovery of a healthy, mated pair of wool socks in the wild, I’ve been on the lookout for further evidence of a breeding population of feral socks.
The evidence found to date remains somewhat ambiguous. The above photo shows an obviously mismatched pair of socks in a multiflora rose bush adjacent to the parking area for a small parcel of public land in an old field-mixed hardwood/conifer forest ecotone. Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is an aggressive colonizer of forest edges and disturbed sites, and its use by the escaped socks (Soccus vulgaris) demonstrates the kind of perverse synergy not uncommon among invasive species. For example, a study of the effects of exotic plant species on soil properties in New Jersey found that they created conditions highly favorable to non-native earthworm species. The earthworms combine with the invasive plants to help push native wildflowers, salamanders, and other vulnerable inhabitants of the forest humus toward extinction. Another example would be the way feral housecats (Felis domesticus) provide nearly irresistible targets for all-terrain vehicle riders (Homo magniclunes), luring them much farther from the bar and deeper into the woods than they would otherwise venture. Together, cats and ATVs put a real hurtin’ on dwindling populations of neotropical migrant songbirds.
So yes, the socks are cute and cuddly – everyone likes socks, don’t they? But the woods are not the right place for them. If you accumulate too many socks – and I know from experience just how easy that can be! – please dispose of them in a responsible and humane fashion. Especially if they stink.