A nasty, eel-like creature weighing up to 15 pounds has started its invasion of Philadelphia’s rivers and streams, causing major concern that it could disrupt the local ecosystem.
It’s called the Northern snakehead, and its grizzled appearance has earned it the nickname “frankenfish.”
On Thursday, a two-foot long specimen was caught by refuge manager Gary Stolz in John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge near the Philadelphia Airport. ”They are very aggressive fish,” Stolz told Philly.com, “And they will eat a lot of stuff.”
The Northern snakehead- a freshwater fish indigenous to Asian countries like China, Russia, North Korea and South Korea -started appearing in Maryland waters in 2002. Although they were first discovered in FDR Park back in 2004, this recent sighting at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge confirms that the top-level predator, which can slither on land for short periods of time, is beginning to colonize around Philadelphia.
“Frankenfish” eat pretty much everything, including small mammals, frogs and other fish, so if they end up thriving in an area with no major predators to control their numbers, they could drastically reduce the local fish population.
Senior biologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Rich Horwitz, told Philly.com, ”Sometimes with invasives that you see, they are introduced and then you don’t see much of them, and all of a sudden they appear everywhere.”
In 2008, Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Science made efforts to curb the snakehead population by monitoring the species throughout FDR Park; they even used an electric shock to temporarily stun the fish for examination.
Unfortunately, Horwitz also pointed out that the recent discovery of snakeheads is an “uncontrolled experiment,” so it will be difficult to determine the exact long-term effects of its introduction.
Local fisherman, who reportedly enjoy reeling in the difficult-to-catch fish, have been asked not to throw snakeheads back in the water.
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