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Florida fears it may have a giant invasive monster on its hands

Updated Mar 27th, 2021 7:28PM EDT
science news
Image: MARIMA/Adobe

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A colossal freshwater fish that can reach up to 10 feet in length has mysteriously washed up on a shoreline in Florida. The arapaima is a predatory fish native to the Amazon, but one was found dead on the shore of Jaycee Park in Cape Coral. That’s a long, long way from the Amazon river in South America, and local wildlife officials fear that if the species is attempting to establish itself in the Sunshine State, it could be devastating for many native species that simply can’t contend with a 10-foot predatory that weighs hundreds of pounds.

As the Sun-Sentinel reports, the dead fish found along the Caloosahatchee River is the first ever found in the state, so it doesn’t leave officials with much information to go on. It was perhaps not fully grown but appeared to be large enough that it was of reproductive age, and that means it could be one of many.

Invasive species are a huge issue all over the world, and it’s no different in the United States. Plants and animals not native to this region arrive in a variety of ways, and if they end up in the wild and reproduce, it can spawn a population of organisms that have advantages that the native wildlife doesn’t, causing them to spread quickly and push out the plants and animals we know and love.

The big question here is, of course, where did this massive fish come from? How did it get all the way to Florida and why was it dead on the shore? With only one arapaima found thus far, there’s no reason to jump to wild conclusions, but there has to be some kind of an explanation.

One of the more plausible angles is that the fish was a pet, kept by someone in private, and when it got too big (or maybe died while in captivity) it was dumped in the nearest body of water. If that’s the case, there’s no risk that the fish reproduced in the wild and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. However, if more of these fish start showing up in Florida, the odds that it will become a problem grow exponentially.

As you can imagine, a 10-foot fish has one heck of an appetite, and as one of the largest predatory fish on the planet, it loves to gobble up smaller fish. In areas where the arapaima could persist in the state, which would be way, way down south due to the species’ sensitivity to cold water, it could impact local fish populations and perhaps even push some native species to become endangered. That is if the invasive fish were to take root and produce larger and larger generations.

While officials investigate, they are asking that anyone who sees or catches one of these fish take pictures and contact local wildlife officials immediately.

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