Then, like an ecological game of Whac-a-Mole, another northern snakehead reared its toothy head the very next week when a professional bass fisherman pulled a 12 1/2-incher from Little Hunting Creek, a Potomac tributary in Virginia about 15 miles south of the nation’s capital. Northern snakeheads are a popular food in their native range; they’re said to be good eating, particularly in watercress soup, if a bit bony. Yes, birds. The Northern Snakehead (channa argus) is an exotic species that was introduced to Virginia waters in the early 2000’s. Besides Crofton and the Potomac, the fish have popped up in several other places in the United States. Experts worried that snakeheads in the Potomac, … Capt. “Adult snakeheads not only eat other fish, they prey on insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/snakehead-fish-survive-on-land Goldfish, carp, channel catfish—none is native to the river. It is said that they will voraci… Snakeheads are an extremely tough fish and can survive for several hours outside of water. Unlike most fish, the northern snakehead has little sacs above its gills that function almost like lungs; the fish can surface and suck air into the sacs, then draw oxygen from the stored air as it swims. But northern snakeheads do like to eat other fish, and a heavy rain could conceivably wash one or more from the pond into a nearby river that runs through a National Wildlife Refuge and into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in North America. The next best thing to explosives,” read the small print on the back of Odenkirk’s green “Snakehead Task Force” T-shirt, which he designed to sell to colleagues for $12 apiece. “He says if you catch one, you don’t have to hand it over to the state. On the one hand, he said, he was disappointed he’d failed to catch one. Continue In 2008, the northern snakehead was found in drainage ditches in Arkansas, as a result of a commercial fish farming accident. “Snakeheads are—they’re kind of bad-asses,” Odenkirk said. It’s hard to predict what will happen, though. Small prey, such as zooplankton, larvae, and small fish and crustaceans populations may be threatened by feeding juvenile snakehead fish. To eliminate the snakehead menace, Maryland wildlife officials dumped the pesticide rotenone into the Crofton pond, killing all of its fish. The behaviours the Northern Snakehead could disrupt native aquatic ecosystems. She nods, identifying it as her husband’s. An established population is very difficult to eradicate. In this case, there is an opportunity to eat it to help beat it. She last wrote for Smithsonian about Panamanian tree frogs. “Most invasive species don’t cause a huge amount of trouble, but some fraction of them do, and we haven’t been too good at predicting that,” he says. Northern snakehead fish are voracious eaters that prey on fish, crustaceans, frogs, insects, small reptiles, birds, and mammals, with significant impacts to food chains and ecosystems. Snakeheads became a national news topic in the United States because of the appearance of C. argus, commonly known as northern snakeheads, spawning in a Crofton, Maryland, pond in 2002. Two years later, northern snakeheads fulfilled biologists’ worst fear and showed up in the Potomac River. Philadelphia fisheries managers decided that poisoning or draining the park’s interconnected ponds would cause more harm to resident fish than the snakeheads would, and have resigned themselves to snakeheads becoming a new member of the park’s ecosystem. The juveniles can migrate overland. But it may knock them out for a while. The 2004 Snakehead Roundup was about to get under way. The toothy predator has been shown to spread a … Like its reptilian namesake, it’s long and slender and can sport blotchy snakelike patterns on its skin. They’re fished commercially and raised in fish farms in Asia. Their future also depends on whether other fish in the Potomac develop a taste for snakehead fry. Early remained unpersuaded even after a baby snakehead was found in a Potomac tributary this past September. There aren’t enough snakeheads to have depleted the bass’ food sources, nor are bass commonly eaten by snakeheads. “Out of eight species of salmon here, six are introduced,” Willink says. And the blue catfish, a sharp-spined transplant from the Mississippi River basin that arrived in the Potomac late in the 20th century, is a headache for fishery managers now, who fear it could interfere with the commercial fishing of channel catfish—which were introduced from the Mississippi basin decades earlier. Snakehead fish are scary, and not just on Halloween. They fear that it will invade new rivers, multiply rampantly and edge out other species. 3. Here's why -- the snakehead devours everything in its path. It can grow up to five feet long. The Potomac is not the river it was when George Washington looked upon it from Mount Vernon and made good money selling native shad. They have been dubbed Frankenfish or fish from hell and there are already many urban myths circulating about these introduced fish. The invasive northern snakehead fish found in the mid-Atlantic area is now cause for more concern, potentially bringing diseases into the region that may spread to native fish and wildlife, according to … Snakeheads couldn’t survive in the mildly salty water of the bay, but they could scarf down shad, fish that spawn in the Potomac and other freshwater tributaries. “It’s just not even an option that we’ve caught them all.” He says the fish probably nest in wide, shallow expanses of lily pads and wetlands. Afish’s response to the electrical current depends on its skeletal structure, scales, size and how close it is to the wires. “They were first detected in the United States in California in 1997. The sheriff sets a bright orange hunting vest on his desk in front of an anxious woman. Northern snakeheads, it turns out, are delicious. Like the Crofton fish, the Philadelphia ones had settled in and started reproducing. They’ve also been sold live in markets in the United States. I tagged along in a 19-foot white-and-blue ski boat with three managers from a family-owned company whose boss didn’t seem to mind that the information technology division was running itself that day. Clockwise from top: A denizen of the East, the bullfrog now inhabits the West, where it eats more delicate local frogs. Their bodies are built for this type of life. While that practice may be all well and good in parts of Asia, it is destroying our own ecosystems here in the United States. “The northern snakehead is a voracious predatory fish native to Russia, China, North Korea, and South Korea. [Audible groans!]. Greater threats loom for bass, such as overfishing and loss of underwater habitat, he said. “They’re really beautiful fish,” he said. The northern snakehead is native to Asia and is one of 29 snakehead species. The Northern Snakehead has become a big problem for ecosystems, mainly in the states of Florida, Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts. In their native Asia, they are prized for their mild, white flesh. Because snakeheads are obligate air-breathers, they can live in poorly-oxygenated stagnant water. The roundup was sponsored by the Marina Operators Association of America to remind boat owners to take care not to transport unwanted species from one place to another—as hitchhikers on their boats or trailers, for example—and to let them know what northern snakeheads look like. If northern snakeheads do have some ecological impact in the Potomac, largemouth bass are likely to suffer, says U.S. Geological Survey fishery biologist Walter Courtenay, who in 2002 wrote a snakehead risk assessment for the agency. The scene is a sheriff’s office near a mountain lake, where a hunter and his dog have been found dead. . Biologist Steve Owens and technician Scott Herrmann leaned over the bow clutching long-handled nets. A female lays thousands of eggs at a time, and both parents guard their offspring in a large nest they make in a clearing of aquatic plants. Meet Joseph Rainey, the First Black Congressman, The State of American Craft Has Never Been Stronger. It is a facultative air breather; it uses a suprabranchial organ and a bifurcated ventral aorta that permits aquatic and aerial respiration. You can dump poison in a little, enclosed pond, but you can’t poison the Potomac. “We’re conducting an offsite meeting,” software designer Brian Turnbull explained. Northern Snakeheads were discovered in Virginia in 2004 and may be found in the Potomac River almost anywhere – from above Great Falls downstream to Chesapeake Bay. The northern snakehead (Channa argus) is a native of the Yangtze River basin in China. He already knows whether the snakeheads are reproducing in the Potomac, but he isn’t telling; adhering to scientific protocol, Orrell declines to share his data until they’ve been reviewed by other experts and published in a scientific journal. Descendants of released pet goldfish flourish in the Potomac, as they do virtually all over the world. Not all non-native fish are invasive, afterall. How did northern snakeheads become a problem in the United States? Northern snakeheads devour and compete with our native fish, including important sportfish such as largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). Courtenay says the fish probably first got into Florida waters through ritual animal release, a common practice in East Asia that some immigrants have continued in their new land. The northern snakehead, which is native to parts of China, far eastern Russia and the Korean peninsula, may seem plug-ugly to the undiscerning eye—it has big, pointy teeth and, given its particularly heavy mucus covering, a slime problem. 17th Annual Photo Contest Finalists Announced. An angler recently reported catching one in a private pond in Gwinnett County. It made its national news debut in 2002, after an angler at a pond behind a strip mall in Crofton, Maryland, caught a long, skinny fish, about 18 inches from end to end, that neither he nor his fishing buddy recognized. We sped back up the Potomac past Mount Vernon to Little Hunting Creek, where the first Potomac snakehead was caught by a fisherman back in May. It eats native zooplankton, fish and fish larvae, frogs and toads, invertebrates, insects, small reptiles and even small birds and mammals. Or so it appeared. The U.S. What is Being Done About it Scientists are trying to find out … Northern snakehead fish are strong predators at the juvenile and adult stages of their life cycle. Its long dorsal fin runs along most of its back. An agency biologist e-mailed the picture to fish experts, who told Maryland it had a snakehead on its hands. Why is it a problem? As adults, they feed mostly on other fish species, but also eat crustaceans, reptiles, mammals and small birds. In the late 1960s, the walking catfish, an Asian species that really can move over land, escaped into the Florida wild. ), but for a long time we haven’t known what its presence means for the health of our native fish populations. Electrofishing, a common sampling method in fisheries research, isn’t meant to kill fish. At least, that was the theory. This star turn is fitting for the toothy “Frankenfish” that has generated many hair-raising newspaper and television news stories—the northern snakehead. is a non-native, air-breathing freshwater fish that is regarded by U.S. fisheries scientists as an invasive species, due to the fact that it can potentially threaten native species and native ecosystems, much the way non-native carp have disrupted native populations in some waters. An adult northern snakehead may consume prey up to a third (33%) of its own size. The intentional release of snakeheads continues and is worrisome, including the dumping of unwanted fish from aquariums. Adults may attack humans who approach young. ), In southern Florida, a close relative of the northern snakehead, the bullseye or cobra snakehead, has been living for a few years in the canals of BrowardCounty. Get the best of Smithsonian magazine by email. Aggressive mute swans from Eurasia take over native waterfowl’s feeding and nesting territories on the East Coast and Great Lakes. These fish also can introduce diseases and parasites. About the snakehead, he says, “I’m not optimistic.”. The culprit in the Sci Fi Channel’s made-for-TV movie Snakehead Terror turns out to be a lakeful of monster fish. Rainbow trout, native to the western United States, have been transplanted into cold waters all over the Midwest and East. … Paul Shafland, a fisheries scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, has worked with invasive fish for 30 years, but he isn’t as troubled by them as most biologists. The rate of new introductions and their spread within watersheds is alarming.”. Keep up-to-date on: © 2021 Smithsonian Magazine. Out of water, they can survive for up to four days. They photographed the fish before throwing it back; a month later, one of them took the picture to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). No kidding. Since then it has become the poster-child of invasive species. It can reach over 33 inches in length and tolerate a wide range of temperatures (32-85°F). They were likely imported to supply the growing trade in live food fish and subsequently released to create new market opportunities. Carp stir up a riverbed and make the water too cloudy for some other fish. It has tan, dark brown or black coloring with a mottled, snake-like pattern. A snakehead! “High voltage . Orrell tested snakeheads found in Crofton, Wheaton, the Potomac, Philadelphia and Shrewsbury, Mass. U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240. firstname.lastname@example.org, Stewarding Conservation and Powering Our Future, Toggle Dyslexia-friendly black-on-creme color scheme, Update on Payroll Tax Withholding Deferral, Integrity of Scientific & Scholarly Activities, Policy Library: Departmental Manual, HR, Secretary's Orders, Wildland Fire Management. Two years later, northern snakeheads fulfilled biologists’ worst fear and showed up in the Potomac River. The northern snakehead could spread throughout the Great Lakes watershed and seriously threaten native fish and invertebrate populations in Ontario. (The largemouth bass, native to North America, was introduced to Japanese waters in 1925 and is reportedly terrorizing native fish and snakeheads alike. Oh! Thin, strong, and fast with eyes and mouth positioned upward. But, he adds, some introduced fish might fill up some part of the food web that was previously unoccupied. “We have philosophically, largely determined that exotics are inherently bad, and that’s fine,” he says. “The importation and cross-border transport of northern snakehead was prohibited in 2002 when they were listed under the Lacey Act as injurious wildlife.”. Ecologists are particularly worried about the already endangered American fish species; and for good reasons since the Northern Snakehead is a highly accomplished predator that feed mainly on other fish. Lots of stuff. For example, walleye, which are native to Canada and the northern US and were introduced to the Chesapeake Bay region in … Northern Snakeheads are a problem because they will compete with native species for food and habitat in all life stages. Problem solved. It was after another angler caught a snakehead in the same pond and netted some babies that all hell broke loose. At least three things: “The federal government recognizes the devastating impacts that northern snakeheads could have throughout much of the United States,” notes Dr. Stas Burgiel, the NISC Secretariat’s Assistant Director for Policy and Program Coordination. Scientists did some electrofishing in the harbor to look for more snakeheads but didn’t turn up any. After showing it off, Orrell shrugged, wrapped it up, laid it back in the freezer and washed his hands. He’s analyzing DNA from 16 fish; if some of the Potomac specimens are closely related, it’s likely that the fish bred in the river. “They don’t like the juice and they try to avoid it.” Still, a snakehead that got close to the trailing wires would be stunned and surface, for Herrmann or Owens to snag. It’s a wide, shallow river that originates in West Virginia and runs 380 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake. The most recent surprise appearance was this past October when a northern snakehead was pulled out of Lake Michigan. The adults are too round-bodied – and stuffed full of our beloved native fauna – to make the trek. Virginia has outlawed the possession of all snakeheads. When she demurred, he kept them in his aquarium and later released them. Yes, birds,” the agency says on its website. This month, an invasive northern snakehead fish was found in a pond in Georgia. In addition to inspiring filmmakers, the snakehead’s appearance in North American waters in the past few years has worried wildlife biologists and commercial and sport fishermen. And in July 2004, an angler caught two in a lake in a Philadelphia park. If the snakehead is different enough from the predators that natives have evolved with, it might drive some natives to extinction. That could change, though. Odenkirk said he’s always conflicted after an unsuccessful day of snakehead fishing. Municipalities which rely on tourist dollars from recreational fishing may s… Juvenile snakeheads eat zooplankton, insect larvae, small crustaceans, and other small fish. The Northern Snakehead is however an opportunist and will happily eat almost anything, including plants, insects and crustaceans as well. Or so it appeared. Fish and Wildlife Service soon banned the importation and interstate transport of snakeheads, a plan that had already been in the works precisely because of fears that some snakehead species could thrive in parks, rivers and lakes if they got loose. Privacy Statement A reporter from the Baltimore Sun called it “a companion for the Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The scariest reports, fortunately, turned out to be mistaken. “Of course, I’m worried about what potential it could have to impact the fishery,” he says. This species also has the ability to cross land by wriggling or "walking" on its pectoral fins. . Odenkirk nosed the boat in and out of the empty slips at the Mount Vernon Yacht Club a couple of miles downriver from Little Hunting Creek. Northern snakeheads, which grow to 3 feet, are native to China, but a fisherman caught one this month in a private pond in Gwinnett County, Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of … The fish, which is native to rivers in South Asia and Southeast Asia, can grow to four feet or longer, but there are not yet enough data to know what effect the bullseye snakehead has had or will have on Florida ecology. Based on their broad environmental tolerances, northern snakeheads have the potential to greatly expand their range throughout North America. Catching a northern snakehead fish may not seem like such a big deal, but it is because the unique critter is not native to the U.S. and it’s illegal to transport, sell or possess live snakeheads in Mississippi. The Crofton snakeheads were eventually traced to a Maryland man who’d bought two of the fish in New York City for his sister to eat. Since then, they have been found in canals, ponds, lakes, and river systems in more than a dozen states. Smithsonian ichthyologist Thomas Orrell walked down an aisle between rows of gray metal shelves containing jars with labels such as “China 1924.” Orrell held up a jar marked Channa argus, the northern snakehead. How did northern snakeheads become a problem in the United States? California Do Not Sell My Info Northern snakeheads became permanently established in the Potomac River around 2004; and possibly established in Florida. Behind a door at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. rest specimens from the world’s largest fish collection. Is This Religious Scene a Long-Overlooked El Greco Painting? However, sometimes media reactions to such discoveries can throw people into a frenzy and panic by totally overhyping the possible dangers of their presence to the local population and environment. The intentional release of snakeheads continues and is worrisome, including the dumping of unwanted fish from aquariums. If the northern snakehead does establish itself in the United States, it’ll join a rogue’s gallery of introduced species that threaten native plants and animals in and around water. But unlike the Crofton fish, they had access to a river—the Schuylkill, which feeds into the Delaware. The fish is native to Southeast Asia and was introduced when someone let one go into a pond in Maryland. Tiny fish leapt out of the water as others lolled gracelessly on their backs, stunned, just below the surface. In 1997, one was caught in a Southern California lake. Snakeheads to not tolerate other species and when they lay their eggs, they will viciously attacks any other fish, or animal (human beings included), that gets too close to their nursery. … Magnus may have witnessed a seminal moment. Steve Early, assistant director in the fisheries service at the DNR, worked on the Crofton pond in 2002 and has handled some of the Potomac snakeheads. This unusual respiratory system allows it to live outside of water for several days; it can wriggle its way to other bodies of water or survive being transported by humans. Asian zebra mussels, accidentally carried into U.S. waters aboard ships, have caused more than $1 billion in damage to pipes in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basin since 1988. Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Magazine In Massachusetts, one was caught in 2001 and a second in 2004. But, as in the Potomac, some native fish still hang on in the lake, and he says it’s worth fighting new invasions. “Listen, Norma,” the sheriff says. The catch has raised fears that the voracious predator might take over the Great Lakes. “What kind of invasive species am I?”Um. National newspaper and TV news reports described snakeheads as vicious predators that would eat every fish in a pond, then waddle across land to another body of water and clean it out. Millions of dollars have already been spent on fish stocking, dam modifications and other projects to help the shad, which used to be plentiful enough to support a commercial fishery in the bay. Lake Michigan, says Philip Willink, an ichthyologist at Chicago’s FieldMuseum, is also infested with nonnative fish. The northern snakehead’s ability to eat a wide range of foods and live in varied conditions allows it to compete with many native fish for food and habitat. Steve Chaconas, one of only a few full-time fishing guides on the Potomac, does not like snakeheads one bit. Orrell is trying to learn if the northern snakeheads caught this past summer in the Potomac were born there. his wife, a lawyer), but the attention he got from catching a snakehead last June in a Potomac tributary has brought him sponsors willing to pay his entry fees for bass tournaments. “We’re just trying to preserve what is left, because once it’s gone, it’s gone.” Since the Lake Michigan snakehead was found in a fairly deep harbor with little vegetation—an unlikely snakehead habitat—Willink surmises that the fish was probably just tossed into the water. Given the right environmental conditions, this invasive species can prey on and compete with other fish, upsetting the natural balance of local ecosystems. The northern snakehead was introduced to rivers in Japan in the early 20th century, but there has been little study of its ecological effects there. At the end of an hour and a half of electrofishing, the catch included many carp, several species of catfish, a bunch of goldfish, a long-nosed gar, a turtle— and zero snakeheads. “Well, it’s not good news,” he says of the discovery, but points out that if some snakeheads do manage to reproduce, they may never thrive in the big river. "If you dump a male and female in there, it is going to be a big problem if they breed." The Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) is fairly cold tolerant, and could probably survive winters in many parts of the United States. The snakehead (Channa or Parachanna sp.) The air sacs are handy for surviving in waters that are low in oxygen, and even allow the fish to survive out of water for a couple of days, as long as it doesn’t dry out. The bay fuels the region’s economy through recreation and fishing. They have long, thin bodies and can reach nearly three feet in length,” said NISC’s Executive Director, Dr. Jamie K. Reaser. 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