Native to parts of Eastern Asia, including China, Korea and Russia, the Northern Snakehead, or Channa argus, has recently begun to reap havoc on ecosystems in North America. Initially, the snakehead was brought to the States as a source of food, as it is eaten in its native regions. In my home state of North Carolina, there have been at least two widely reported incidents of northern Snakehead sightings. In August of 2002, a pair of snakeheads were caught in Lake Wylie, NC. In 2007, a large adult Snakehead was caught in the South Fork Catawba River. A major reason why the Northern Snakehead has been so successful in the much of the eastern United States is due to its ability to prey on native species. The snakehead has a nasty reputation from its ugly, menacing to demeanor to the fact that it can grow up to four feet in length. There have even been movie productions like Snakehead Terror about the scary fish.
The most common efforts to remove the fish including the draining or poisoning of the small bodies of water they have infested. A more famous incident of snakehead infestation was in a pond in Crofton, MD. In order to prevent the spread of the fish in the pond, Maryland officials released the pesticide rotenone. Unfortunately, the whole pond was wiped out, but the snakehead went along with them. Six adult fish and one thousand babies were found afterwards.
Although the draining of ponds and the use of pesticides are fool-proof ways to kill of the northern snakehead, it seems quite drastic to destroy a whole ecosystem to save it. In the future, it would be quite helpful if techniques can be developed to isolate the snakehead and kill or limit their growth. Other things to consider are the lasting effects of the pesticide. After it is distributed, does it stay in the ecosystem or does it biodegrade? In the long run, the most effective effort to limit the spread of this invasive fish is prevention. Since 2004, various laws have been passed throughout the United States, especially in greatly affected states such as Maryland, North Carolina and New York, prohibiting the selling, trading or importing of the fish.
The recent economic setback in our country and around the world has had negative effects on almost everyone’s way of life. Abandoning a pet and destroying an ecosystem, however, is no way to solve that problem. Yet people are doing just that. Burmese pythons are large snakes that can strangle and eat prey as large as alligators, and they are being released into the wild by irresponsible pet owners. The snakes can weigh up to 250 pounds and their top slither speeds can reach almost 20 miles per hour. With such a fast pace, certain pythons have already made it 100 miles towards the opposite coast of the United States. Scientists believe that there are roughly 30,000 nonnative giant snakes living in the wild in the Everglades, and that those snakes could thrive even more if introduced into other states such as California.
The Burmese Python has the potential to kill off numerous other species and establish itself as a dominant force throughout the United States. Its large size and quick movements are reasons it is so abundant in its natural habitat, and could be in the United States. The main enemies of pythons are larger cats such as lions and tigers, but there are really none of those in the US. The only real opposition present for the python is the alligator and even that is an even battle. Beavers, like most animals in the US, do not eat pythons and would simply be tasty treats for the snakes.
With roughly one-third of the United States as a suitable living environment, my question is how long will it take the python to cover that area? The government has already begun to try and kill of the python, but to no avail. The best thing we can hope for now would probably be a really cold winter everywhere in the US.
Picture can be found here.