A pond in Manatee County was recently home to nearly 400 invasive fish known for their large size, ability to survive in harsh environments, and “extremely aggressive natures.”
Oh, and they can also hunt on land.
It is the first time on record that researchers have documented an invasive group Golden snake heads on Florida’s Gulf Coast, according to a study recently published in Aquatic Invasions, a peer-reviewed international journal focused on invasive aquatic species.
Native to Asia, the fish can outlive and outpace native Florida wildlife, posing a threat to the local environment in the waterways where it is caught. The only other known population in the United States is more than 150 miles away, in Broward County.
“I found it interesting because it was so distant from other known residents here in Florida. That suggests to us that it may have been a case of someone who brought it in from South Florida,” said Matthew Nelson, a fish biologist with the USGS and one of the study’s authors.
“It’s a very large predatory fish, and it consumes a wide variety of prey: fish, reptiles and amphibians,” Nelson said in an interview.
The researchers were first contacted by a resident, who is described as a fish enthusiast, who made the discovery. From start to finish, the study took about two years, Nelson said.
One rainy day in 2020, several snake heads are seen slithering their way to the bank of the pond after luring some green tree frogs next to them. in what is described asseldom seen behaviour,The researcher documented the fish rapidly twisting their bodies towards the frogs and catching them. Successful hunt out of the water.
That’s just one reason why fish are such a threat to Florida wildlife: They’re hardy.
“It’s an interesting behavior, but it also increases the likelihood that they will survive through importation,” Nelson said. “If you have an animal that can suck in surface air, and then use it to breathe, it can survive the transport.”
Snakeheads are a common species worldwide in the aquarium fish trade, and for anglers, they make up a good fight, too. A fisherman living on Florida’s west coast, Nelson believes, wanted some unique sport hunting in his backyard, and may have brought the animal in from all over the state. But this is just a theory, and the truth about how the fish was introduced to Manatee County may never be revealed.
The researchers compared the genes of the populations in the Manatee County pond to the fish populations found in Broward County. They were “nearly identical” and could be associated with the snakeheads of Thailand, according to Nelson. Population has thrived in South Florida for more than two decades.
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The pond, located east of Interstate 75, also included other non-native species, such as Asian swamp eels and catfish, according to the study. The scientists brought the carcasses of dead fish collected in the pond to a nearby landfill in Manatee County.
The museum said Florida wildlife biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission helped kill nearly 400 snakeheads found in the pond, many of which are classified in the Florida museum’s ichthyology collection.
“It appears that the eradication efforts were successful, so they are no longer in Manatee County,” Nelson said. But he added a caveat: There is a possibility that some individuals may still be swimming there in the nearby waters.
“If any are seen, the public is encouraged to report them.”
You may report sightings of non-native species to the Wildlife Commission’s Exotic Species Hotline at 1-888-483-4681, and you can report non-native species online at Ivegot1.org