Research July 16 2019

Xavier Biologists Discovery

New Orleans LA – On June 15, 2019 Xavier University of Louisiana Biologists Dr. Peter Martinat, Associate professor of Biology, and Kristal Huggins, Instructor of Biology, laid eyes upon twelve Monopterus specimens, an exotic species new to the Bayou St. John area better known as the Asian Swamp eel. The pair made the discovery while participating in the “Bayou St. John Giant Salvinia Control Patrol” clean-up effort, a neighborhood volunteer organization that keeps the bayou from being clogged by two invasive aquatic plant species Alligator Weed and Giant Salvinia.

When Huggins and Martinat first caught a glimpse of the creature, they originally thought it was an Amphiuma or conger eel, a genus of aquatic salamanders from the United States that Huggins says are normal for freshwaters in the bayou area, but upon further inspection they knew that this was a unique species not native to Louisiana freshwaters. After consulting Dr. Frank Jordan, Moon and Verna Landrieu Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at Loyola University, it was determined that the mystery organism was in fact the Asian Swamp eel, an air-breathing species of fish in the Synbranchidae family native to the fresh and brackish waters in temperate, subtropical and tropical parts of Asia, as well as Australia, West Africa, and Middle and South America.

“This is an extremely significant discovery,” said Huggins. “We have a lot of invasive species in this area and if the Asian Swamp eel species were to continue to grow, it could disrupt several ecosystems in competing with other native Louisiana species for food and space.” The unusual-looking fish ranges in size from about 18 to 30 inches long as adults and resembles a snake. Unlike other fish, it lacks fins, distinctive gills, and scales.

After further research, Higgins discovered that the eel is common in different Asian cuisines and also made an estimation as to how the eel arrived in Louisiana waters. “There are many different groups of Asian Heritages in the area and the eel is often imported into the United States live and can be found in Asian food markets throughout the country and we suspect that is how the eel was introduced to Bayou St. John,” said Higgins.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries released a statement which advises fisherman or anyone else who comes in to contact with the Asian Swamp eel to immediately place any specimens collected in a plastic bag and then place it in a freezer due to the fact that the possession of live Asian swamp eels is prohibited under state law. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries can be contacted at  [email protected] or at 225-765-3977 to report any sightings or to arrange a pick up.