Wednesday, June 25, 2014

There are monsters in the Arno

Thousands of people walk over the Ponte alle Grazie in Florence, never noticing the monsters below their feet.

Not long after we arrived, we were looking over the bridge and were astounded at what we saw in the murky water.  There were the expected large carp swimming through the weeds, but then this huge thing started undulating along the bottom like a massive snake.

Ponte alle Grazie
Actually, it looked like what I always imagined a sea serpent looked like. Very long -- six or eight feet.  Large head, smooth skin and a tail that came to a point rather than splayed like a normal fish.

In moments there were four or five of the beasts swimming beneath us.  It was too dark and I did not have a long lens with me, so I couldn't get a photo.

But Cecile and I watched in awe.

I've tried almost every day since then, but couldn't get a decent photo.  I would see snatches of the fish, but not like that first time.

I did look them up, however, and found they are truly what the Animal Planet show calls "river monsters."

The Arno is home to the Wels catfish, Silurus glandis. It's a native of Eastern Europe that is now in several Western Europe rivers.

Jeremy Wade of River Monsters
Big is an inadequate word for a freshwater fish of this size.  They will grow to 12 feet or more and have weighed in at nearly 400 pounds, though most caught this day are in the five-to-six foot range. They don't swim like a normal fish, either, but slither through the water like a snake.

They are not particularly friendly, either.  It takes a lot of protein to keep a critter that big healthy, so they gulp down copious amounts of fish, frogs and worms.  And also ducks, pigeons, mice and anything else that ventures near their cavernous mouth. Jermy Wade, host of River Monsters, nipped on the leg as he tried to release a Wels he had just caught.

I'll try at least one more time to get a photo of the mighty Wels, but I have little hope.  We were lucky to see them in even dim daylight, as they prefer to feed at night.

But I'm not stick a toe in the Arno, even at noon.

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