I was busily working away at the newspaper’s Harborview Boulevard office when I heard a distant rumble. A quick peek at the radar showed a massive thunderstorm approaching quickly from the north. Heavy lightning bombardment has shut down the electricity at the plant before, so I saved everything I had open and hoped for the best.
In a few minutes, the rain started. Buckets of rain. Rain so hard I could barely see the road from the front door. Then, BOOM! Lightning crashed, thunder rolled, and the lights went out. I figured I’d give it five minutes to see if the power came back and then scram — I’ve seen this show before, and it’s long and boring.
Soon I was running out the door, splashing through six inches of water in the parking lot. Safely in the truck, I peeked at the radar again. I knew it would be a wet ride pk彩票, but at least the roads by my house rarely flood. Ha! By the time I got to my street, the swales were full and there was water sloshing all the way across in two spots — and the rain showed no signs of slowing.
I helped Diane with supper and we started a movie. An hour in, the rain was down to a slow drizzle. I looked over at my wife with that special twinkle in my eye and said, “Hey, honey — do you wanna …”
She knew exactly what I had on my mind. Before I could even finish saying it, she jumped out of her chair, put her hands on her hips and said, “Really? We’re going snake hunting?”
She was right, but I was wrong. We didn’t spot a single reptile, though we did see and hear a bajillion frogs and saw one big gator edging up to a flooded North Port back road.
But the most interesting find was something completely different: A school of walking catfish moseying across the damp pavement. They appeared to be vacating a small pond and heading toward a larger canal.
If you’ve never seen a fish walking on semi-dry land, the sight of one of these creatures must be quite something. They “walk” by jamming their stout pectoral fin spines against the ground and pushing forward with their tails, wiggling side to side as they go. They have no problem breathing air, and as long as they stay damp and shaded they can survive at least two days out of water.
Such an exotic species must be from somewhere else, and of course they are. Walking catfish were introduced to Florida in the late 1960s by tropical fish farmers. They are terrible aquarium fish — they get big, they have enormous appetites, they rearrange the decorations, and they are always trying to escape. No one wanted them until a very beautiful piebald variety with random white markings was found in Thailand.
They were brought here to be farmed, but guess what? It rained, and the fish farmers’ brood stock walked out of their ponds and escaped. Whoops — shoulda thought that through.
The original release site was near West Palm Beach. From there, they spread all over south Florida, from Orlando to the Everglades, in about 15 years.
When I was a kid, we were told walking catfish were going to be the death of Florida fishing. They would eat all the bass, then start in on the sunfish, and eventually there would be nothing swimming here except walking cats. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
In fact, walking catfish seem to be in decline. Certainly I see a lot fewer than I did 25 years ago. Instead of taking over, they seem to have found a niche here and become almost naturalized. Things might have been very different. In Africa, there is a closely related species that grows to nearly 4 feet long. Our species tops out around 20 inches, though most of them are much smaller.
Many species prey on them, and that’s probably why they didn’t become the predicted plague. Great blue herons in particular love them, probably because their long, eel-like bodies are easy to swallow. Alligators also seem to like them quite a bit, and I have used small ones as bass bait with good results.
In their native range, walking catfish are highly prized as food fish. I’ve never eaten one, but the folks I know who have report they’re sweet and mild. However, be careful handling them. Like saltwater catfish, the fin spines are venomous, and their walking habit makes them dangerously wiggly. Sounds silly, but they can put a good hurt on you.
We took a few photos of catfish in the road and then left them be. At this point, they’ve had 50 years to do whatever damage they were going to do. It looks like they’re not going to be too much trouble for the rest of Florida’s wildlife, so live and let live.
Capt. Josh Olive is a fifth-generation native Florida Cracker and a Florida Master Naturalist, and has been fascinated by all sorts of wild things and places since he was able to walk. If you have questions about living with wildlife, contact him at Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com or 941-276-9657.