An invasive species of fish that can breathe air and crawl across land using its spiny gills is moving towards Australia, where researchers fear it could dramatically upset the balance of the indigenous ecosystem.
The climbing perch is a species of fish native to Southeast Asia, though it has also spread south through Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in recent decades, according to Grind TV. An invasive species, the fish is a formidable animal, capable of using its gill coverings to both pull itself along on land and to choke any predator that may assault it. The species has also proven to be extremely robust, hibernating in the mud of dried rivers for up to six months. A pair of lungs situated next to their gills allow the fish to breathe out of water for as long as six days in extreme cases.
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The fish have now found their way to Boigu and Saibai, two islands off Queensland that are situated just a hundred miles from mainland Australia. Researchers are worried that the fish could make the journey to the continent, especially since the species has recently been observed residing in salt water, according to the Guardian.
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Nathan Waltham, a senior researcher at James Cook University, related that he observed two of the fish in salt water during a trip to the islands last December. Though the fish were swimming in water with a salinity equivalent to that of the ocean, Waltham says he doesn’t believe the fish could tolerate an open-water journey to reach mainland Australia.
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Rather, researchers worry that the perch could find their way to the continent on a trawler or other fishing boat. If they were to do so, the fish could have a significant impact on the local ecology, much like other invasive animals, as the Inquisitr previously reported. Such an outcome would represent a “major disaster” for certain native species, according to Waltham. Though they only grow to a length of 9.8 inches, the unique defense mechanism exhibited by the fish makes them very dangerous to indigenous animals.
“When they populate an area they’re not commonly found in, they can disrupt the balance of that habitat,” Waltham said. “That’s why we’re working with Torres Strait authorities to make sure they don’t spread further south.”
Waltham noted that education remains the best tool for authorities to prevent the spread of the invasive fish to the Australian mainland.
[Image via Grind TV]