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Bullseye Snakehead Fish

Bullseye Snakeheads found in Florida

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Bullseye Snakehead were first documented in Florida on October 5, 2000 when an angler brought his catch to Shafland for identification. The Bullseye Snakehead is very similar in appearance and behavior to our native Bowfin, but just different enough to make this alert angler suspicious. There are actually 29 different species of African and Asian snakeheads currently recognized by scientists, all of which are air-breathing fish, but only two—the Northern and Bullseye—are known to be reproducing in North America.

Florida scientists have collected and observed thousands of Bullseye Snakehead during the last few years, with the largest of these weighing just over nine pounds and measuring up to 33.5 inches long, according to Shafland. Interestingly, the heaviest Bullseye ever collected in Florida was collected more than two years ago.

One reference indicates Bullseye Snakehead grow to four feet in length and weigh more than 60 pounds, but again Shafland responds by saying “show me the data,” then adding that if they truly grew this large, surely we would have seen fish larger than nine pounds by now. Adult Bullseye Snakehead typically have red eyes and the body is a gold-tinted brown in contrast to younger fish that are pale gray. Older fish sometimes have a two-toned pattern with a lighter more orange-colored lower body and several large black blotches in front of small groupings of silver-edged scales called rosettes. In Florida Bullseye Snakehead occur only in eastern Broward County, but they are expected to spread and could eventually occupy much of south Florida.

“Bullseye Snakehead are easily recognized by their torpedo-shaped body, toothy jaws, and long dorsal and anal fins that don’t have any spines,” Fury said. The most distinctive marking on the Bullseye is its prominent eyespot or ocellus, which is a black spot rimmed with orange near the base of the tailfin. The long anal fin that runs from the anus to the tail of the Bullseye Snakehead readily distinguishes it from the native Bowfin.

All four of these experienced scientists emphasized that Florida and the rest of the United States has a serious and continuing problem with illegally introduced freshwater exotic fishes. But, after more than a hundred years of collective professional experience, Courtenay, Fury, Hill, and Shafland all agree that while there is a big need to educate the public about these fishes, there is no need to sensationalize or exaggerate their effect, especially in the manner that has become so commonly associated with Asian snakeheads.

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