Snakehead Fish Invades Central Park: How Did ‘Frankenfish’ Find Its Way Into NYC Lake?

By Philip Ross on April 30, 2013 3:19 PM EDT

snakehead
A northern snakehead, a predator fish that can reach lengths up to 3 feet long and can live out of water for days, was discovered in Central Park. (Photo: Flickr/SFU Public Affairs)

A northern snakehead, an invasive predator fish native to China, Korea and Russia, was recently discovered in a Central Park lake.

The unsightly "Frankenfish," which can seriously damage native fish and wildlife populations, was spotted in Harlem Meer lake in the northeastern-most corner of Central Park.

NBC News reports that the snakehead fish, which has razor-sharp teeth and eats frogs, crayfish, birds and even small pets, threatens to disrupt the ecosystem. The snakehead is so harmful to our environment that New York State prohibits the sale, possession and transport of the live fish and its eggs.

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Environmental officials are reportedly planning to survey Harlem Meer lake this week and sketch out a plan to eradicate the intruder.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, or NYSDEC, snakeheads can grow up to 3 feet long and are very good predators. The fish are highly invasive and pose a grave threat to native fish and wildlife populations. Snakeheads can also breathe air and can survive for days out of the water in damp conditions.

Back in 2008, NYSDEC workers, using a pesticide called CFT Legumine, removed 220 snakeheads from a lake in Wawayanda, a town in Orange County, New York, in an effort to eradicate the snakehead population there. The largest fish they found was 31 inches long and weighed over 11 pounds.

Where did the snakehead fish come from?

According to NYSDEC, as international trade increases, so does the incidence of invasive species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or FWS, reports that the snakehead fish got here one of two ways: Either they were released by aquarium owners, or by individuals looking to establish a local food source. From FWS:

Snakeheads are being sold in live fish food markets and some restaurants in Boston and New York. Live specimens have been confiscated by authorities in Alabama, California, Florida, Kentucky, Texas and Washington; all states where possession fo the fish are illegal. Also, snakeheads are readily available over the internet.

Other species on the New York State invasive list include the Asian Longhorned Beetle, the Gypsy Moth, the Chinese Mitten Crab and the Feral swine.

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