An aggressive fish species that can survive outside of water for up to six days, crawl across dry land and suffocate its predators have been spotted on two islands in the Torres Strait, and is threatening to spread towards the Australian mainland.
A senior researcher at the James Cook University, Nathan Waltham, said that it would be a “major disaster” for certain Australian fish species and other wetland inhabitants such as turtles and birds if the crawling fish, known as Anabus testudineus, hit Australia. This is mainly because when the fish “populate an area they’re not commonly found in, they can disrupt the balance of that habitat”.
The fish, which is native to south-east Asia, has sharp spines on the protractible cover of its gills and uses it to drag itself from one waterhole to another. It can also hibernate in the mud of dried-up riverbeds for up to six months and it swells up when swallowed by predators in order to choke them to death.
Nathan Waltham also stated that the freshwater species could tolerate exposure to saltwater. According to Waltham, it’s very unlikely for the crawling fish to be able to swim all the way to the Australian mainland, but there is a danger that it would “arrive in the bottom of a fishing boat or as a discarded live-bait fish”.
Local fisherman are urged to report sightings if they find a fish species they are not familiar with. Waltham concluded that “only with on-going education and surveillance are we going to prevent climbing perch from arriving in northern Australia”.