If Stephen King were to write a novel about a terrifying, monstrous fish, he might create something not unlike the snakehead. Its large mouth is filled with razor-sharp teeth. It is a voracious predator, feasting on anything from worms to small mammals... But dead is the only way fishery officials in the United States want to see the northern snakehead.
If Stephen King were to write a novel about a terrifying, monstrous fish, he might create something not unlike the snakehead.
Its large mouth is filled with razor-sharp teeth. It is a voracious predator, feasting on anything from worms to small mammals. It can survive hostile conditions: it effectively hibernates when the water surface freezes, and becomes dormant in mud during drought. It can even survive up to four days on land, using its fore flippers to propel itself along in search of new ponds, streams or rivers to inhabit. It naturally hails from Asia where it serves as a catch-and-release fish for sport or salted and stuffed with lemongrass, or fried and tossed with chili peppers and peanuts in a salad.
But dead is the only way fishery officials in the United States want to see the northern snakehead. This species of snakehead has spread along the eastern seaboard, with the bulk of sightings in the Potomac River/Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, but some also occurring in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina and Florida.
The snakeheads' arrival followed the simple script of a King novel, as well, with a careless mistake by an unthinking man, as detailed in a 2007 article in the Washington Post Magazine:
Around 2000, a man who lived in Crofton [in Maryland] had ordered two live snakeheads from an Asian fish market in New York, wanting to make his sister, who was ill, a pot of snakehead soup. But the sister got better before the fish hit the pot. The snakeheads, a male and a female, were set free in the pond. They made babies.
In 2002, an angler found a snakehead in a pond in Crofton, and local wildlife officials immediately pressed the nuclear button, poisoning the pond's waters in an attempt to make sure none of them wriggled their way to any other locales. The original two snakeheads had, in two years, multiplied to 800.
At least, officials exhaled, the snakehead invasion had ended before it began. Or had it? Two years later, more of the fish showed up in a Maryland lake, and then others were caught in the Potomac River. Panic ensued, with lurid tales of giant Asian, air-breathing fish striding across land and devouring babies. The snakehead earned all manner of epithets (as if being called 'snakehead' weren't bad enough): Frankenfish. Fishzilla. The fish from hell.
Snakehead image via Shutterstock