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TANCEY CULLUM BELKEN: What’s that in the water?
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TANCEY CULLUM BELKEN: What’s that in the water?

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Have you heard of the giant goldfish that was caught in Lake Erie recently? A college student was fishing when she landed an unusual catch, a 3.5-pound goldfish.

In 2020, a Parks and Recreation crew in Greenville caught one even heavier; it weighed in at 9 pounds. While seemingly simple and harmless in a tank, goldfish can be troublemakers when allowed to live wild where they don’t belong.

Aquarium pets often end up in wild waters when well-intentioned pet owners release them when they can no longer take care of them. The abandoned pets then have two options – thrive or perish. Many aquarium pets are not equipped to survive in the wild outside their native regions. It is not a humane option to release animals into the wild. Those that thrive often become what is considered invasive. An invasive animal (or plant) is one that is not native to a habitat and causes damage to the ecosystem. Examples of aquarium pets that are considered invasive include goldfish, northern snakeheads, zebra mussels, and red-eared sliders (turtle).

Annually, invasive animals and plants cost the U.S. $120 billion. Worldwide, that number nearly triples. Invasive species cause damage in different ways. Sometimes, like with goldfish, their diet changes when they are no longer in captivity. Pet goldfish eat flakes bought at the store, feral goldfish revert to their natural diet; they are omnivores. They uproot aquatic plants and stir up sediment while looking for anything to eat, from decaying plant matter to fish eggs. Some invasive species, like the northern snakehead, feed on native species. Other species, such as the red-eared slider, reproduce quicker than their native counterparts and compete for food and shelter. Often, the non-native animals have no predators in the new environment and can bring new diseases that harm native species. A healthy ecosystem is a balancing act; bringing new players into the game can quickly offset that balance.

When you plan to bring home a new pet, do your research. Ask the following questions:

How long does the animal live?

How big will it grow, and how quickly?

How much and what type of food does it need?

Do I have enough time, space, and energy to care for an animal with specific needs?

Many suppliers will take back an animal if the owner is no longer willing or able to care for it properly. Education facilities, pet rescues, or exotic rescues might be other options or help to find a place to rehome a pet. Being a responsible pet owner doesn’t stop when the excitement of a new pet wears off.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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