Let us take a gander at 5 of the less prestigious and more aesthetically challenged fish specimens found in our North American waters. There are some weird and wacky creatures swimming our lakes and rivers, and very few people are even aware of it. We will take a peek at some exotic and alien fish species that now call our local waters their home. Some of the strangest things are going on under the surface, and if we knew half of it most of us would probably never go swimming again. Here are the top-5 in the ugliest fish species category!
These predatory and parasitic eel-like creatures have wreaked havoc on native fish in the Great Lakes. The sea lamprey is essentially a large bloodsucker that latches onto any unsuspecting host, usually game fish found in the Great Lakes. They, like the American eel, are catadromous reproducers in that they breed in the Atlantic Ocean and travel inward through freshwater streams and rivers to feed.
The sea lamprey undergoes life stages, gradually developing an inborn need to suck blood and body fluids from a host using its razor-sharp teeth and grasping tongue. They often leave their host fish dead or severely injured. In ongoing studies done in Lake Huron, as many as 20 percent of the fish sampled had lampreys attached to them, showed healing wounds or had scars from lampreys. It has been estimated by researchers that the sea lamprey, over the course of its life, will kill an average of 18.5 pounds of fish. Approximately three pounds of blood is required to raise a sea lamprey from metamorphosis up to sexual maturity. Not only nasty these creatures are ugly as heck!
The bowfin is an ancestor of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and one of the few freshwater fish considered a contemporary of the dinosaurs. The bowfin is quite distinctive with an extremely long dorsal fin, cylindrical body and ice age-like head. They are found in eastern North America in various rivers and ox-bow lakes (a lake that has been formed out of a pre-existing curve of a river). The bowfin is also distinct in that it must rise to the surface and gulp air to re-inflate its swim bladder. They grow up to three feet in length and weigh upward of 15 to 20 pounds and certainly haven’t won any beauty contests!
Besides being mysterious-looking compared to other freshwater fish in eastern North America, the bowfin is actually quite similar in behaviour to other piscivorous, or fish-eating, fish. The bowfin is a powerful fish and can be extremely dangerous, as they often try to bite when being removed from a hook. The bowfin, on sheer looks alone, garners it a top-5 position on the ugly list.
Throughout the United States, from the Florida panhandle to the Mississippi drainage, to the Ohio and Missouri Rivers and over to Mexico, you will find the alligator gar—the largest and most fearsome member of the gar family. Alligator gar are considered by many to be the ultimate trophy sports fish because they have been reported up to 350 pounds and 10 feet in length. They are a very large fish with a broader, bulkier build than the long nose gar and, as the name implies, look very much like an alligator with a fish’s tail. The alligator gar, besides being quite impressive and intimidating because of their size, are not known to be aggressive with humans; however, they do have a voracious appetite and will eat just about anything that they can fit in their mouth. They have become the stuff of legends and more than a few nightmares too, I would imagine.
The northern snakehead is a fish native to the Yangtze River in China where they survive in large numbers. However, as with many other accidental introductions into North American waters, they can also be a scary sight and create substantial damage. The northern snakehead story in the United States dates back to the new millennium where a New York City restauranteur reportedly ordered snakeheads to make soup for his restaurant. Well, that’s when all the trouble started. The northern snakehead, you see, is a very peculiar fish in not only its looks but in its ability to breathe air. These critters can live for several days out of water and in China are often packaged and shipped live as they will remain fresh for longer providing a fresher meal.
It is believed that the restaurant owner received his snakeheads for soup but found them too cute to eat, so decided to put them in his aquarium instead. His two snakeheads quickly consumed all the ‘feeder fish’ the restaurant owner offered them and in no time became too large for the aquarium. It is believed the man then released them into a pond behind the house where these native Chinese fish had their run of all the local pan fish in the lake. As time went on, the ugly snakeheads reproduced and eventually found their way into other nearby water systems. The grotesque intruders have been caught by anglers across New England, and because of their ability to breathe air and the fact that they are extremely resilient, with such a ravenous appetite, the northern snakehead is a concern to local waters. The Northern Snakehead has since been discovered in six other U.S. states. Be on the lookout for this ugly intruder!
See Through Barrel Eye
The see-through barreleye fish, is last on the ugly list and thanks to the work of the Monterey Bay Research Institute, has single-handedly solved a 50-year old mystery. The see-through barreleye fish is aptly named for its eyes that are barrel-shaped and unique in the way that they face upward to detect the silhouette of prey from above. The most unique and downright ugly part of the barreleye is the front portion of this fish, from its snout to the back of its head and pectoral fins, is completely see through! Much like those novelty telephones in the 1980s, the barreleye has translucent skin on its body that fully exposes the inner workings of this crazy-looking creature.
Another unique fact of the see-through barreleye is the area of the ocean in which they are found. They were discovered in the Mesopelagic Zone of the Pacific Ocean, which ranges from 1300 to 8200 feet below the surface. They are also unique in the way that they are pelagic spawners, which is to say that the fish’s eggs and sperm are released in a large mass at the same depth of water—buoyant and subsequently fertilized at unbelievable depths in the ocean. Though certainly not the super models of the fish world, barreleyes cause no apparent environmental damage and appear rather friendly—a welcomed change in a sea of turmoil.