We've all seen the cheaply made science fiction/horror movies: Sharknado, Piranha 3D. But it turns out a real life monster fish may be on its way toward Australia, and officials there are concerned, very concerned. The fish in question is called the climbing perch, otherwise known as Anabas testudineus.
It's not twenty feet long. It doesn't eat people. There are no lasers involved. But, the climbing perch can breathe on land for about 24 hours. It can pull itself along on land using spikes on its bony gill covers. It can survive for up to six months in the mud of a dry creek bed. It can survive in brackish water. It may be able to survive in salt water. When swallowed whole, it can puff itself up to stick in the throat of a predator causing the predator to starve to death or suffocate! The thing is, this fish has so many survival strategies, Australian marine biologists are worried that if the climbing perch establishes itself in Australia, it would be an ecological disaster for many native species like fish, turtles, and some birds. The climbing perch could very possibly wipe out whole hosts of species, out competing some and eating others.
The climbing perch is native to Asia where in some areas it is an important food source. It is high in protein, and because it can survive for so long, in such harsh conditions, it keeps out of water without refrigeration for much longer than many other fish.
But it is this very ability to survive that has allowed the climbing perch to, over the course of about forty years, make its way to Indonesia, and then into Papua New Guinea where it overwhelmed native fish populations. Recently a few individuals have been found on two Australian islands, the Torres Strait islands of Boigu and Saibai, a mere 90 miles off the Australian mainland. Marine biologists are fairly sure that the fish can't actually survive in the ocean long enough to swim such a distance, but they are concerned that the climbing perch could make its way to the Australian mainland in, or perhaps even clinging onto the bottom of a ship, or tossed overboard by fishermen as live bait.
Dr. Nathan Waltham, a James Cook University scientist is currently tracking the perch's movement. He's concerned that even a few individuals in one waterhole in Australia, could crawl over land from one waterhole to the next, laying eggs and eventually reproducing and surviving in vast numbers.
To head off this threat, Waltham has created a program called TopWATER, which aims to educate the public about the threat posed by such highly invasive species. "It's only through active education and monitoring," Waltham says, "in partnership with relevant authorities and local communities, that we can keep it under control. If we do it early enough."
In the mean time Australian biologists are capturing climbing perch specimens and studying them in the lab to learn more about their strengths and their weaknesses. They are hoping that they can prevent the climbing perch from reaching the Australian mainland. If they can't, they're looking to find something that could help them eradicate this monster should the need arise.