The Asian swamp eel, a non-native fish, has been found in canals, ditches, streams and ponds near Tampa and Miami, Fla. The species is spreading and has the capability of invading and harming freshwater ecosystems throughout the Southeast, including the already-besieged Everglades system, according to the U.S. Geological Survey scientists who found the species in Florida.
The exotic creature is a highly adaptable predator, able to breathe air and to live easily in even a few inches of water, especially in warm climates.
"This species exhibits unusual behavior, appearance and adaptations," said Dr. Leo Nico, a biologist with the USGS Florida Caribbean Science Center in Gainesville, Fla. "It has the potential to spread into freshwater ecosystems throughout the Southeast where it could compete with or prey upon native fishes. Imagine a creature with all the attributes necessary to successfully invade and colonize the Everglades and other southeastern wetlands. Well, the swamp eel may be that creature."
The lakes, streams, canals and swamps of Florida and the Southeast are ideal habitats for these eels, said Nico, who discovered the species while conducting scientific samples of fish species in a Tampa Bay drainage. Scientists say they suspect the swamp eel may have escaped from a tropical fish farm or have been a pet released from an aquarium. The species, they believe, is already firmly established in Florida.
Although few non-native fishes invade natural wetlands -- instead being primarily found in disturbed habitats such as canals and drainage ditches -- Nico said the swamp eel's biology makes it well suited for all kinds of habitats. "We expect this foreign fish to rapidly occupy natural wetland habitats," said Nico. "One major concern is for the Everglades ecosystem, not only Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, but the surrounding wetlands as well. At this point, the best
Contact: Hannah Hamilton
United States Geological Survey