Note to Editors: For downloadable images of aquarium fish, go to http://nas.er.usgs.gov/fishes/dont_rel.htm on the World Wide Web.
If the aquarium of brightly colored exotic fish with interesting names like angelfish, swordtail, glow-light tetra, hatchet fish and tire track eel that Aunt Tillie gave you for Christmas is rapidly becoming a burden, think twice before you dump the tank and destroy the evidence.
"It happens all too often," says biologist Pam Fuller of the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, Fla.
"The fish tank that the budding hobbyist wanted so much becomes an unwanted responsibility and the nearest stream, or water source of any kind, provides the solution."
This is not the solution.
"Each year, more than 2000 non-native fish species, representing nearly 150 million exotic freshwater and marine fishes, are imported into the United States for use in the aquarium trade," said Fuller. "Dumping them into the nearest body of water when they are no longer wanted creates a problem for the native fish species and for ecosystems in general."
When fish find themselves in a non-native habitat, they become susceptible to parasites and diseases that they do not have a natural ability to fiend off. The fish may also be attacked by native predators, such as larger fish, fish-eating birds, or water snakes.
If exotic fish survive and reproduce, they are difficult, if not impossible, to control or eradicate. Their presence may lead to changes in the native, or local, fish population in an area through competition with native species or by preying on them.
Just as aquarium fish that are dumped into the nearest stream may become susceptible to unfamiliar parasites and diseases, they may also infect native fish with exotic parasites or diseases. And, aquarium fishes may affect the genetics of native species by hybridizing with them.
Some aquarium species may even pose a physical or public health threat, such as piranhas and freshwater stingrays.What is the right way to dispose of your aquarium fishes? Fuller makes the following suggestions:
To find out more about invasive species in general, go to http://www.usgs.gov and click on "Invasive Species Threaten America’s Biological Heritage." or go directly to http://www.usgs.gov/invasive_species/plw/index.html. For more information on nonindigenous aquatic species, go to http://www.fcsc.usgs.gov/Nonindigenous_Species/nonindigenous_species.html.
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