Something fishy happened on the day Hurricane Ian made landfall.
Hours before Ian made landfall in Cayo Costa in southwest Florida, its impacts were being felt in Brevard County in the eastern part of the state by way of catfish appearing in driveways and yards.
USA TODAY Network-Florida producer Jennifer Sangalang spotted two catfish at her home near Wickham Park in Melbourne, about 50 miles southeast of Orlando. Sangalang doesn’t live near a pond or lake. One fish measured about 6 or 7 inches long and was found flopping in the driveway in a shallow puddle of water. Hours later, another was found thrashing in the grass in her backyard. Both were released to another neighborhood pond.
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How did they end up there? Though the type of catfish wasn’t confirmed Wednesday, it’s possible they were walking catfish. These catfish, which breathe air and “walk” on their pectoral fins, are native to freshwater in Southeast Asia. However, they are found throughout Florida in swampy areas like the Everglades, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. They are sometimes found in storm drainage systems, which they may emerge from during floods.
You might spot them using their pectoral fins to walk, or swimming through flood waters, like Dove Goldenberg, who recorded a TikTok video of a catfish swimming in a flooded yard in Palm Bay.
Merritt Island resident Becky Blasch took to Facebook to ask if others had a “yard full of catfish,” saying she had spotted more than 14 in her yard and even on her welcome mat.
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Initially from South Asia, the walking catfish’s introduction to Florida is believed to be linked to an importation by an aquaculture facility in Palm Beach County or a truck transporting brood fish between Miami and Broward County, according to the Florida Museum. Since then, they have spread to 20 counties in 10 years, with the museum adding that the fishes’ ability to spread has likely been “aided by its ability to traverse short over land and potentially enhanced survivorship imparted by parental care of their young.”
It is illegal to possess and transport live walking catfish in Florida, FWC said, noting that fisherman should immediately put them on ice if they want to try eating them. AZ Animals reports they are considered a tasty fish in their native home and are “fairly safe” to eat.
Follow Finch Walker on Twitter: @_finchwalker.