saengtaegye gyoran saengmul - invasive species

Invasive species in South Korea

This week’s post began with an idea, not a word: I wanted to write a little about invasive species in Korea.

I think most people know about invasive species in their own country, right? Here in the Great Lakes region, I hear frequently about the dangers posed by Asian carp; in my home state in the South, kudzu introduced from Japan is a huge problem. And it’s not surprising that the concept of “invasive species” is pretty well established in the States – kudzu was introduced around 130 years ago, after all.

Kudzu plants near Canton, Georgia
Kudzu plants near Canton, Georgia, photo by Bubba73 (Jud McCranie), CC BY-SA 3.0

Less known, in America at least, is that invasive species are a two-way problem: In Korea plants and animals native to the American continents have begun to wreak havoc. However, it’s kind of a more recent problem. And this is where I hit a linguistic stumbling block: Finding out the Korean word for invasive species, which I did not know.

My dictionary searches were unsatisfactory, so I asked my extremely educated (though admittedly city-boy) Korean husband what the word was – and he didn’t know either. He did some googling, though, and got back to me with a link from NamuWiki to the page on saengtaegye gyoran saengmul 생태계 교란 생물 – literally, ecosystem-disrupting lifeforms. This – or saengtaegye gyoran jong 생태계 교란 종, literally, ecosystem-disrupting species – seem to be the most common Korean terms for invasive species.

Invasive species in Korea

Uh are you still with me? Yeah, it’s kind of a mouthful and not the snappiest. However, let’s leave words aside for a moment. This post started with an idea, not a word, as I said – so let’s dive in and look at three particular invasive species in South Korea (though there are many more, including plants and microorganisms!).

keunip baeseu - Korean for largemouth bass

Largemouth bass 큰입배스

Largemouth bass are prized in North America, their native continent, but they cause problems in South Korea. Introduced in 1973 as freshwater fish stock, they were initially released experimentally in areas of Gyeonggi-do, the province around Seoul. They have now spread throughout the peninsula, where they compete with native species, damage crops, and serve as disease vectors, among other depredations (한국외생물정보시스템a; 국립생태원 2017). Based on the number of fishing blogs and forums that come up when you google largemouth bass in South Korea, they are also a popular target for anglers in the country.

Oh, and the name, by the way? Keunip baeseu 큰입배스 literally means large (keun) mouth (ip) bass (baeseu)!

hwangso gaeguri - Korean for bullfrog

Bullfrogs 황소개구리

According to Borzée et al (2017), the importation of American bullfrogs began in 1959 but accelerated in the 1970s, and within 20 years, escaped bullfrogs had established populations in the wild. They were originally introduced for food, but that never really caught on, and feral populations can now be found in all provinces except Gangwon-do (한국외래생물정보시스템b).

Bullfrogs (hwangso gaeguri) are wreaking havoc on the Korean environment in a few ways: as disease vectors, competition, disruption of the food chain, and other means (Borzée et al; 한국외래생물정보시스넴). Borzée et al report there are fewer native treefrogs in areas where bullfrogs are found, and Heo et al report that the presence of bullfrogs may change the appearance and behavior of a particular Korean snake, the red-backed rat snake: adult snakes from an area with bullfrogs, Taean, had a longer tail length than those from a population in Hongcheon that had not been exposed to bullfrogs, as well as a different way of flicking their tongue.

nyuteuria - Korean for nutria

Nutria 뉴트리아

Nutria are a South American water-dwelling rodent, and the first 100 arrived in South Korea from France in 1985. This initial stock apparently did not survive long, but later shipments meant that by 2001, there were 150,000 nutria on 470 nutria farms in South Korea (Lee et la 2012 in Jo et al 2017). The original purpose was farming for meat and fur (한국외래생물정보시스템c). However, this did not fly, nutria escaped, and in 1999 they were declared an invasive species, with established populations in the southeastern part of the country along the Nakdong River system, in and around Busan (Jo et al 2017).

In the latest twist in this tale, Korea Exposé reports, nutria have recently become a hanyak 한약 (“Chinese” medicine) and culinary craze after a TV show in January 2017 suggested that nutria bile contains an extremely high level of UDCA, a compound used to treat liver ailments that is usually obtained from bear bile through pretty cruel means.

About next week’s post

I am going to take a hiatus on writing here next week – I need to put a huge chunk of actual paid work behind me – though I’ll be cleaning up and sharing an old post for social media. Stay tuned and please comment with any new words you’d like to see here!

Romanization: Revised Romanization


Jo, Yeong-Seok, Jonathan J. Derbridge, and John T. Baccus. “History and Current Status of Invasive Nutria and Common Muskrat in Korea.” Wetlands 2017, 37:363-369.

Amaël Borzée, Tiffany A. Kosch, Miyeon Kim, Yikweon Jang. “Introduced bullfrogs are associated with increased Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis prevalence and reduced occurrence of Korean treefrogs.” PLOS One. 2017-05-21.

Jun-Haeng HEO, Heon-Joo LEE, Il-Hun KIM, Jonathan J. FONG, Ja-Kyeong KIM, Sumin JEONG and Daesik PARK. Can an Invasive Prey Species Induce Morphological and Behavioral Changes in an Endemic Predator? Evidence from a South Korean Snake (Oocatochus rufodorsatus). Asian Herpetological Research, 2014; 5(4):245-254. DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1245.2014.00245

한국외래생물정보시스템a. 생태계교란 생물 검색: 배스. Accessed 2017-11-8.

한국외래생물정보시스템b. 생태계교란 생물검색: 황소개구리. Accessed 2017-11-8.

한국외래생물정보시스템c. 생태계교란 생물검색: 뉴트리아. Accessed 2017-11-8.

국립생태원. 큰입배스가 외 생태계교란 생물이에요? – 외래생물 알아보기 (3). 국립생태원 블로그. 2017-5-16. 인터넷. 2017-11-8.

All content copyright Sara M-K unless otherwise noted/obvious. Featured image created using CC0 image from Pixabay.


  1. 생태계 교란종 also can be used for foreign pro-sports player who dominate domestic league. This is not widely used. Sometimes young sports fans call them 생태계 교란종 on internet. 니퍼트 is KBO 생태계 교란종.( 테임즈 is too. ( category=%EA%B3%84%EC%B8%B5&vtype=pc). There is article about it.(

    1. That’s very interesting! Korea has a law about how many foreigners can be on one team, right? I think I heard that about baseball, at least. I heard that some people in England think England should have the same rule about Premier League, but that doesn’t sound very realistic in that case… Anyway thank you for sharing this too!!

  2. I recalled someone who called white man dating korean woman ‘생태계교란종’ on internet once. I searched it. I found it is also used for attractive foreigner sometimes. I didn’t know before searching it. This is not widespread.

    This guy said ‘백마가 생태계 교란하는 현장’. Using word ‘백마’ criticized from comments.

    Other examples.

    한국경제신문 which is known for its extreme right wing stance says ‘foreigners are 치안 생태계 교란종’

    1. Wow! That is not very nice… I’m glad to hear it is not widespread. Thanks for sharing!

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    I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
    I have even created an Instagram account for them ( ) and probably soon they will have more followers than me (kinda funny).

    I have subscribed to your newsletter. 🙂

    Keep up the good work on your blog.


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