This week, we are going to look at invaders. Many of them are all around us.
For many years, as a young man, I wondered why it was illegal to use goldfish as bait, as they seemed like something that would work. I just assumed that it was some sort of animal cruelty thing, as goldfish are kept as pets. I now know better. In the wild, goldfish, which are a type of carp, can get really big. They are very disruptive to ecosystems into which they are released, and they reproduce rapidly. If used as bait, they can get off the hook and be free, or get dumped into the water when the angler is done fishing. Also, people who get tired of their pet goldfish sometimes release them into the wild. They create a genuine problem.
Next, we have the snakehead fish. These toothy, voracious predators, can decimate an ecosystem. They have been seen in only limited numbers in Pennsylvania, but they could easily spread. In fact, a cheap horror movie was made about them. Anglers who catch one are advised to not return it to the water, but rather to kill it. I have read that they are good eating. Supposedly, they were originally imported as food fish, but somehow found their way into waterways.
The red eared slider is a cute turtle that was once very popular as a pet. The problem was that they could get rather big and smelly, and it was discovered that they are carriers of a number of diseases. People suddenly found themselves with a pet they no longer wanted. They didn’t want to kill it, so they released it into the wild, where it thrived. Out of sight, out of mind. Despite their cute appearance, they reproduce rapidly, and have a disturbing tendency to crowd out other species.
The rusty crayfish has been in the news a bit as of late. They were probably introduced into our waters by people emptying bait buckets into the water when done fishing. They have a tendency to crowd out native crayfish, and they reproduce rapidly Their appetite is pretty voracious, too. A major identity mark is the fact that their claws have black tips.
Nutria were originally brought to the United States to be raised for fur. Naturally, some escaped. These are large rodents with ugly orange teeth. They are currently found in swampy areas of the South, but it’s only a matter of time until make their way north. They decimate native flora. There is an effort going on to get people to hunt and eat them. Supposedly, they are very good. I have seen videos on cooking and eating them, and the finished meal is definitely something I would try.
We have all heard of Asian carp. These are the fish that jump out of the water when a boat goes by. They reproduce at an alarming rate, they get huge and they are making their way to the Great Lakes, where they would be a disaster to the fishery. In some places, they are being called copi, in an effort to make eating them more desirable. Call them what you like; they are still carp.
Last, but by no means least, we have the lamprey. I have only ever seen one. It was attached to the side of a chinook salmon which I caught on a charter trip to Lake Ontario. These eel like parasites attach themselves to the side of a fish and feed on its blood. Their mouth is the stuff of nightmares. In fact, a horror movie was made about them.
I hope you enjoyed this look at invaders. While doing my homework for this column, I was surprised how many invasive species there are, both on land in the water. In the near future, we’ll look at some more.