Science & Technology



Asian swamp eels spread in the Everglades. 'Potentially the worst species we've had yet'

Alex Harris, Miami Herald on

Published in Science & Technology News

For a crayfish in the Florida Everglades, its worst nightmare is three feet long, dark brown and pure muscle, with a mouth like a vacuum that sucks up nearly everything it can find — tiny fish, small shellfish, turtle eggs and frogs.

It’s called the Asian swamp eel. And while Floridians may be more used to seeing it grilled and doused in a sweet sticky sauce in sushi rolls, the slippery beasts have become an increasingly problematic invasive species in the delicate Everglades ecosystem.

While these eels have been a presence in certain pockets of the park for decades, a newly released paper published in the journal Science of the Total Environment has — for the first time — put some hard numbers on the voracious appetite of these creatures. And it isn’t pretty.

In Taylor Slough alone, researchers found that populations of two native crayfish and the tiny flagfish dropped 99% since the eels invaded. Marsh killifish dropped 91% and the eastern mosquitofish, important for its pest-munching prowess, tumbled 66%.

“You can’t say 100% because there were like two crayfish,” said Matthew Pintar, lead author of the paper and a researcher at Florida International University at the time.

The decline of the small critters that make up the base of the food web for most life in the Everglades, including wading birds, is dramatic enough that Pintar suggests the eel should dethrone the Burmese Python as the most formidable invasive species in the Everglades.


“In Taylor Slough, they’re the No. 1 species in terms of the threat they pose to the ecosystem,” he said. “It’s potentially the worst species we’ve had yet.”

From kitchen table to backyard canal

These invasive eels first slithered their way into South Florida in the late ’90s, likely from folks dumping unwanted pets (or food) into nearby water bodies, although some of those releases can be chalked up to religious practices.

Their first official spotting was in a canal near Hard Rock Stadium in 1997. They made their way into the Everglades by 2007, just outside Taylor Slough, a shallow sheet of water that flows into Florida Bay in the southern Everglades.


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