By Morgan Guthrie
We are all familiar with Mary Shelley's 1818 gothic fantasy Frankenstein. Many associate Frankenstein with horror films, memories of Halloween as a child, or science fiction. But there is nothing fictional about a recently discovered creature that terrorizes Northeastern and mid-Atlantic freshwater systems in America. The predatory Northern Snakehead fish, or “Frankenfish,” is a tremendous cause for concern.
Frankenfish are native to China, Korea, and parts of Russia, but are an invasive species in the United States. The Frankenfish is one of 29 species of long, black and brown spotted fish that resemble eels. With beady black eyes, a mouth full of fangs, & flattened, snakelike heads, their threatening appearance and serpent-like features aren’t the only things that make them so terrifying.
Frankenfish are aggressive predators that thrive in poor conditions. They have a wide range of temperature tolerances which allows them to adapt to many aquatic habitats. They can also survive out of water for many days if they can stay wet. This is because their gills can take oxygen from both air and water. To top it all off, Frankenfish reproduce twice a year— sometimes doubling their population in as little as 15 months. Because Frankenfish can thrive in traditionally harsh conditions, they are more likely to proliferate and persist than other species. Consequently, this allows them to spread disease and attack other species of fish and aquatic life.
Frankenfish are not picky when it comes to appetite—they will eat almost anything, including native fish, frogs, lizards, and other small animals that spend time in water. Additionally, if they don’t like the menu in the body of water they are in, they can easily squirm out of their current pond or stream and slither overland to more desirable waters. This makes them nearly impossible for ecologists to control.
Wildlife biologists hypothesize how Frankenfish arrived in the United States. They assume it is likely due to a combination of pet trade, fish markets and aquaculture. At one point in time, Frankenfish were sold in pet stores before a federal law made it illegal to possess them in 2002. Despite the efforts to contain them, the fish have been spotted in various states across the country—including Vermont and Lake Champlain.
To combat the adversive effects of these fish and other invasive species, experts advise the public to be more aware of their actions. They advise people to never dispose of aquarium fish in lakes, streams, or ponds, and to never stock non-native fish anywhere. In many cases, people are asked to report Frankenfish to their state’s Department of Natural Resources. So, the next time you and your friends are enjoying a dip in the lake, watch out for Frankenfish!
How did snakehead fish get into the United States? United States Geological Survey. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-did-snakehead-fish-get-united-states?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products.
Northern snakehead. Northern Snakehead | National Invasive Species Information Center. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/aquatic/fish-and-other-vertebrates/northern-snakehead.
Northern Snakehead. New York Invasive Species Information. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from http://nyis.info/invasive_species/northern-snakehead/.