'Frankenfish', Spotted In CT, Prompts New Warnings From Wildlife Czars

CONNECTICUT — It’s a harmful, invasive species of fish with sharp teeth and python-esque skin that can travel over land for days outside of water.

It’s also been spotted in Connecticut, and 14 other states and the District of Columbia.

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When it’s not scaring the locals, the northern snakehead, Channa argus, has served as the inspiration for a few of straight-to-video “B” horror movies, including “Snakehead Terror” and “Frankenfish.”

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Now the little monster is back in the news. After being spotted in the southeastern part of Missouri last month, wildlife biologists are advising people to be on the lookout for the toothy critter, which can grow as long as three feet in length.

Snakeheads in the United States are a product of a less-ecologically savvy time. Hailing from the Yangtze River basin in China, the creatures were actually sold in pet stores up until the Lacey Act banned the import and interstate transport of dangerous animals in 2002. Unless they are guarding their eggs, snakeheads won’t usually attack like a SyFy movie star, but you won’t know where their eggs are, so experts advise playing it safe.

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The other fish in the area won’t have that option.

“It’s a really, really aggressive predator,” said Bill Foreman, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Fisheries Office. The northern snakehead is the apex predator in the American watering holes where it’s been loosed.

“Nothing living with that predator is near as evolved,” Foreman said. “We always want to prevent non-native species from getting a toe-hold on our ecosystems here.”

Officials from the United States Geological Survey warn that, should snakeheads become established in North America, they’ll wreak havoc with the local food webs, causing a permanent disruption in the ecology.

For that reason, wildlife officials across the U.S. are advising fishermen not to release a snakehead if they catch one. Rather, they should kill the fish immediately,

There has been only one confirmed sighting of a northern snakehead in the state, in the Middletown area in 2017. Foreman sat there have been plenty of reports, but these often turn out to be the snakehead lookalike, the bowfin. Both species have a long dorsal fin that runs along their whole back, but the snakehead is a darker, blotchier brown. The bowfin will also have a black spot at the base of its tail, and a much shorter anal fin.

State biologists are urging fishermen who believe they’ve caught a snakehead to call the DEEP Fisheries Office at 860-424-3474, or send an email to deep.marine.fisheries@ct.gov. If possible, include photos of the fish, preferably with close-ups of its mouth, fins and tail, along with information about where it was caught.

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