Snakeheads: Coming Down the Mountains

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Science  04 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5676, pp. 1415
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5676.1415c

Snakeheads (Channidae) are air-breathing freshwater fish that can walk on the land and jump in the water. These large fish (0.3 to 1.8 m long) have heavy bones and sharp teeth. Unfortunately, they are predatory and have become a problem in North America, where they have been introduced accidentally and could decimate native species.

An excellent fossil record of this robust fish indicates an origin in Pakistan at least 50 million years ago (Ma). Böhme tracked their migration into western Eurasia about 17 Ma and into Africa and eastern Asia about 8 Ma. In nature, extant snakeheads are restricted to African and Asian regions of high precipitation with temperatures greater than 20°C. Using these climatic restrictions, the author inferred that their migration about 17 Ma fits with a northward shift of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, and their migration about 8 Ma fits with the development of the Asian monsoon—two climatic shifts related to the uplift of the Alps, Pyrenees, and Himalayas. Thus, the mobility of the snakeheads traces paleoclimate and past tectonics. — LR

Geology 32, 393 (2004).

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