You and I, as many kids, wanted that wonderful pet, the goldfish, as part of your menagerie. Parents took kids to stores where they scooped up small bowls, bits of green, colorful gravel and a shaker of food. Things were all set for your first pet aquatic adventure in your room or somewhere in the living room. Yes, it was wonderful, even though you hated cleaning that too-small bowl (but now we know why it had to be small) and adding a snail or two to the collection.
If you experienced anything like I did as a child, those snails just didn’t care to remain solitary creatures and soon transparent bits of stuff appeared on the sides of the bowl or the greenery. What were they? Why, little snails being placed all around your watery habitat. At first, they were wonderful to watch as the blobs began to form into transparent little, tiny snails and then to grow as large as their little parents.
Faithfully, because I believe all life is precious, when cleaning time rolled around, I removed the greenery and tried to save every single snail on it. Soon, the snails were too much for the bowl and a decision had to be made. Down the drain they went because my mom assured me that they would end up in a better place.
No, the snails wouldn’t die. They’d just be happier to be in a larger watery place than this small, round bowl on the living room table. Reluctantly, I agreed and slipped the incipient snails off the sides of the bowl and the vegetation. I felt a pang with each successful removal.
Many years later, in fact decades later, I became a member of a wildlife refuge and I loved walking through the woods, down the trails and standing by the side of the large pond. Surveying the pacific surface, I noted one area where large blobs of yellow, bright orange and variants of both appeared in the shallows. What was this? I knew there were huge fish in the pond (no fishing allowed) and I saw their dorsal fins breaking the surface as they swam in a group around the pond. Okay, they were dark, looked like a native species and that was fine. But the yellow ones?
Questioning the naturalist at the preserve, I had a lesson in pet ownership that I shall never forget. Seems there’s a golf course just up the hill and across the road from the preserve. “When it rains,” the naturalist told me, “people dump their goldfish into the stream up there. The stream carries the fish into our pond and because of the size of the pond, they grow to unheard of sizes. Take a look,” she said. Yup. those were oversized goldfish in the shallows and they must have weighed three or four pounds, but no fishing allowed and the invasives benefitted by it.
The problem isn’t contained to the pond where I roam. It’s a problem and not only with goldfish. In Australia a few goldfish have now taken over a river and states in the US are being affected by these seemingly harmless little creatures. They aren’t harmless when released into the wild and they’re not the only invasive fish to affect waterways in the US. We see the Asian carp in such numbers that they literally jump out of the water into boats or hit people on their self-propelled flips.
In Florida, the Asian snakehead has been seen in every waterway and small canal in housing developments. Here, however, there may be a somewhat nefarious activity going on. This fish is prized in some markets and the small ones are seeded in the waterways when no one is looking. There they are left to mature and then recaptured, usually at night, for sale in local stores.
If you happen to be near a Florida canal, look for small, red fingerlings; they’re the snakeheads’ young. The fish itself is rather frightening when you see it poke its head out of the water because it looks like a large snake.
Mom, I don’t know what happened to those snails, but thank goodness we didn’t release any goldfish. Goldfish, you should know, as many other species of fish, will grow dependent on the size of the container you give them. Want really BIG goldfish? Put them in a large tank and watch them grow.
Releasing exotic pets, too, has resulted in one of the most serious and potentially ruinous activities in Florida in the Everglades. The Burmese python, often bought as a pet, has now begun to gain incredible access to the once-pristine swamps in South Florida. They devour everything that comes across their path and hunts have been quite unsuccessful in culling their numbers.
How did they get there? When these snakes get too large and too frightening for their owners to handle, they release them into the wild or hurricanes disrupt the safety of pet shops and the snakes slither out into the wild.
No longer do you see numbers of raccoons, fox, wild birds of every species and it’s reached serious proportions. These snakes lay clutches of 100 eggs at a time. Finding their nests and collecting the unhatched eggs is a chore beyond the capacity of the wildlife authorities. The annual snake hunt challenge hasn’t been all that successful just as the hunt for wild boar in Florida has failed. Someone I know in Florida told me about the annual pig roast they have for hunted wild boar. “It’s turned into a wienie roast,” he told me. No one has caught a boar yet.
What to do? Don’t release any non-native or even native animals into the wild. It’s not a humane thing to do and it wreaks havoc on the environment and the creatures who depend on it to live. Releasing snakes is like putting a killer into a playground and you certainly wouldn’t do that.