Seven-year-old Aiden Walter never imagined he would unearth an exotic fish species when conducting a scavenger hunt for school, but that’s just what happened on Thursday evening near Cooper’s Cave. We were able to get an exclusive interview with the young Glens Falls native and his family to learn just how this incredible discovery happened.
The Discovery of the Frogfish
“It was raining a lot and I didn’t want to go outside,” Aiden Walter’s nine-year-old brother, Sam, told us.
Like many elementary school students, Aiden had put off an assignment for school until the last minute. Of course, the night before this nature-themed project was due, we experienced some rain in the Glens Falls area.
The homework? To conduct an outdoor scavenger hunt where he had to find a number of objects to either take home or take a picture of: a log, animal tracks, mushrooms, an insect, moss, and more, including “something not found on land.”
Aiden and his brother Sam, along with their parents, Joe and Patricia Walter, were making their way down the Feeder Canal Trail in the rain, hurriedly trying to find each item on the list. Although the four were embarking on the journey together, Aiden assures us he was tracking down the objects and completing his assignment all on his own.
When they were near Cooper’s Cave by the Hudson River, Aiden wandered down to the shore while the other three huddled under umbrellas. It was there he discovered an interesting looking gray fish that appeared to have stubby legs, resting just underneath the water, close to the shore.
With the help of his dad, Aiden was able to capture the fish with a Tupperware container which they used to bring it home; they’d brought the container along to take certain scavenger hunt items with them.
“I almost didn’t see him!” Aiden said. “He looked just like the rock he was next to. That’s called camouflage.”
Joe Walter had a feeling that this was not a typical fish species found in the Hudson River, particularly when the fish changed color from gray to orange after it was retrieved from the river.
When the family got home that evening Joe Walter did a little research and realized it was likely to be a type of frogfish. He contacted the authorities who pointed him in the direction of Friends of Invasive Species of the Hudson (FISH), a nonprofit organization that works to handle and relocate invasive species in the river.
FISH is now working to determine what the frogfish is eating in the Hudson and what its potential impact will be on the overall ecosystem.
How the Frogfish Got to the Hudson
As we learned more about the frogfish it became clear just how amazing this particular find is. Frogfish tend to hang out at the bottom of the water, are well camouflaged, and usually dwell in more tropical waters. The fact that this fish made it to the Hudson River, and was able to be seen by a young boy – from the shore, no less – makes this a truly remarkable discovery.
“What FISH told me is, the Hudson River takes on a lot of different kinds of fish species,” Joe Walter explained. “Some migratory fish start their lives in the Hudson, and then make their way to the ocean to mature, like the striped bass. But they’ve seen all kinds of species make their way to the Hudson, they’ve even seen seahorses down by Manhattan.”
Aiden’s dad went on to explain that the lower Hudson opens up into the ocean, which lets in saltwater fish, although the salinity decreases as the river goes farther north. Frogfish, which come in dozens of different species, can live in saltwater or fresh water.
FISH believes the frogfish came from the Atlantic Ocean and made its way to the Hudson River through the lower Hudson estuary. This fish likely hadn’t been discovered yet because they can change colors to camouflage to their environment, and they tend to stay close the riverbed.
“I talked to the FISH group for quite awhile, and have been doing my own research. I’ve become a little obsessed,” Joe Walter laughs. “But it’s been a great bonding experience with my son, to learn about this fascinating fish together.”
Frogfish get their name from their “legs” that make them appear to be part frog. While most fish have fins on either side of their bodies, the frogfish’s fins are turned down and stretched out, which make them look like little legs or feet that they could walk on if they were on land.
Their size ranges from less than an inch to about 15 inches long; this frogfish was measured in at about 10 inches. They don’t have teeth, but can swallow other fish and prey up to twice their size. While they move slowly, they have an incredibly fast strike speed.
What’s Next for the Glens Falls Frogfish
FISH is taking care of the frogfish for now, conducting research and working with local authorities to do what they can to learn more about Glens Falls’ newest species. The frogfish is expected to be returned to the Hudson once it can be eliminated as a potential invasive species.
In the meantime, FISH is asking fishing enthusiasts and anyone else who recreates on the Hudson River – anywhere on the river, not just in the Glens Falls area – to alert them if they see another frogfish. Or, any other unusual species.
Aiden was able to take a picture of the fish to include with his scavenger hunt assignment, which he has received an A+ on. Not to be outdone, his brother Sam is determined to unearth his own interesting species in the near future.
*April Fool’s! No frogfish has been discovered in the Hudson River – yet.