With net migration to the United States from Mexico at zero, paranoid people need something else to freak out about. The “good” news is that there is always plenty of things to make both the sane and the insane flip their wigs.

So where do the weird, invasive fish that have been turning up in America’s iconic parks, coastlines and even on dinner tables figure in? Big deal, minor curiosity or somewhere in between climate change and wind farms spoiling the view?

Northern snakehead, pic: Brett Billings/USFWS

Northern snakehead, pic: Brett Billings/USFWS

Let’s look at a couple of recent examples of invasive fish hype:

Fishzilla – the name alone says it all: This is one scary fish. It actually looks pretty frightening in some pictures.

Fishzilla, aka frankenfish’s real name is the northern snakehead, which only sounds slightly better. Native to Asia, the northern snakehead has reportedly been found in the waters of Central Park in New York City. You’ve come a long way, snaky. It’s got vicious-looking sharp teeth and can reach lengths of 40 inches (1 meter). It’s also a competent predator, eating fish, crayfish, toads, insects and other stuff. Amazingly, some species of snakehead can also survive on land for up to four days provided they’re kept wet. That means it’s a fish that can breathe air. The northern variety can’t walk, however, so it won’t be spreading throughout the States on foot.

But is it really bad news?

The northern snakehead is a prolific breeder and eats pretty much every other animal in its habitat, so yes.

From the Stamford Advocate:

While considered a valuable food fish in some places, snakeheads can inflict substantial ecological damage. The species can breed as often as five times per year and a single female can brood up to 75,000 eggs per year.

So like in the case of jellyfish, Western palates may eventually have to develop a taste for snakehead stew, but they’re not going to bite anyone’s toes off.

And then there is the Pacific Ocean lionfish, which is admittedly much prettier than the snakehead, but is causing a lot of damage to coral reefs in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also come a long way, this Indo-Pacific transplant. But that’s what happens when Floridians can’t be bothered to care for their expensive exotic pets – they let them go. And now the lionfish are eating coral in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

From the LA Times:

Although the ecological effects of these fish are not yet fully understood, it’s clear they are upsetting food webs and competing for resources with native species. They are also adding stress to coral reefs and other marine ecosystems already under pressure from climate change. Warming sea temperatures, ocean acidification, increased pollution and overfishing all threaten reefs. If the spread of lionfish is not slowed, it may be the final straw.

Ever resourceful, Floridians have started to eat the spiny fish. One restaurant serves them along with Florida’s favorite invasive reptile, the Burmese python. Oh yum.

A Pacific Ocean lionfish in the Bahamas, pic: nashworld (Flickr CC)

A Pacific Ocean lionfish in the Bahamas, pic: nashworld (Flickr CC)

About The Author: Graham Land

Greenfudge editor and London-based writer Graham Land grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene, playing in several bands. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, eventually earning an MA from Malmö University in Sweden. He has also lived in Japan, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.


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