This Week’s Creature Feature – Two Years into a Life Sentence
By Diana Beechener
Two years ago, the Calvert Marine Museum put a new inmate in the tank, a snakehead fish, as the showpiece of the museum’s invasive species exhibit.
“It was a good example because there was a lot of press on it a few years back,” says Ken Kaumeyer, the museum’s curator of estuarine biology. Though the fish hasn’t attempted a jailbreak, Kaumeyer isn’t ready to declare it a model prisoner.
Originally, the snakehead was to be part of a larger exhibit, featuring three of the fish. Kaumeyer learned that snakeheads don’t like to share space.
“We discovered rather quickly that the largest fish becomes dominant and beats up on the others,” Kaumeyer says. “So that’s why there’s one in the tank.”
Maybe the snakehead knows there’s no possibility of parole.
“We’re prohibited from ever releasing the fish,” Kaumeyer says. If the fish, which is growing slowly, ever becomes too big for its tank, it will be moved to a bigger tank.
For now, the snakehead can at least enjoy the amenities of captivity.
“They eat better than I do,” says Kaumeyer, who feeds the fish a mixture of squid, clams, chopped-up shrimp and fish. Though the snakehead is traditionally an ambush predator, the fish has learned to appreciate feeding times.
“I’m not a fan of rice, but if that’s the only thing you give me, eventually I’ll eat it,” Kaumeyer says. “That’s basically the process we used.”
Even with no hope for parole, the fish still gets daily visitors as people stop by the tank to look at the captive and ask questions.
Though one snakehead has been securely imprisoned in Calvert County, more still lurk in Maryland waters. Kaumeyer would remind you that if you catch a snakehead, report it to Maryland Department of Natural Rescoures, which is keeping track of the invasive species’ spread.
Also, don’t confuse one of Maryland’s most wanted for one of its native species. Snakehead fish can closely resemble lizard fish, but the latter grow only about eight inches while the snakehead grows well over 20 inches.