There is a natural order of things in the world which surrounds us. We expect cows that walk on the ground, fish that swim in the sea and birds that fly in the air. But sometimes these natural rules become bent or broken. For example, there are a number of birds that get around quite nicely underwater. In Southwest Florida, it’s not unusual to see a swimming cormorant or anhinga dive out of sight beneath the surface to hunt, then reappear with a captured fish. It’s impressive that these birds are such adept swimmers that they can outmaneuver fish. But if you want to see birds that are completely at home beneath the surface, you should watch penguins swimming underwater. The portly penguins appear comically slow and clumsy when waddling around on land, but as soon as they dive into the sea, they leave behind their terrestrial awkwardness and are so fast and graceful when submerged that they appear more akin to fish than to birds.
It works both ways. Fish belong in the water, but there are fish that temporarily abandon their home element. The walking catfish is an exotic imported species that has become common in most of the freshwater ponds and streams in our region. These fish can “walk” on land by flopping from side to side, digging their pectoral spines into the ground at each flop to move themselves forward. After periods of heavy rainfall they are often seen crossing roads or sidewalks as they search for new bits of water in which to live. Many other species of fish also forsake the water in favor of air, but for most it’s only temporary as they leap skyward then quickly splash back into the water. Sometimes this is done to escape from submerged predators, but sometimes, as in the case of our locally famous mullet, there is no obvious reason for repeated jumps.
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