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Catfish Takes a Walk

"Dear Danny," the letter began, "I'll be coming home in just a week, now. And I have a surprise for you."

Mr. Burcaster had been away in Asia on a business trip for several months. The week seemed to drag along, but at last Danny's father was home.

"And here's the surprise," Mr. Burcaster said, unwrapping a big package. There, in a tank, two fish were swimming. They looked like catfish, but they were a creamy white.

"Say, those are cool. What are they?" Danny asked.

"They're catfish -- but a special kind." Danny's father lifted one of the catfish out of the tank and placed it on the floor.

"Don't do that, Dad," Danny shouted. "It's gonna die!"

But the catfish did not seem to mind being out of the water. It wriggled and flopped across the floor, using its front fins to help it along.

"This is a walking catfish," Mr. Burcaster said. "He can breathe air."

Danny had fun playing with his walking catfish. But soon they grew too large for the tank. Danny put them into the fish pond in back of the house.

Each day Danny went out to the pond to feed the fish. He sprinkled bread crumbs into the water. Minnows and goldfish swam up to the surface to snap at the bread crumbs. So did the two white catfish.

After a while, Danny noticed that there weren't as many minnows and goldfish as there used to be. As the weeks went by, there were fewer and fewer. But the two catfish were always there.

Then one day there were no more small fish. And the next day the catfish were gone, too. "What happened to them, Dad?" Danny asked.

"Well," said Mr. Burcaster, "I guess the catfish ate the smaller fish. And the catfish -- maybe they took a walk."

Sure enough, a few months later Danny got a phone call from his cousin, Billy Joe. "Remember those catfish of yours?" Billy Joe began. "Well, there's some just like them over by Jones Creek."

Danny raced over to Jones Creek on his bike to get a look at the catfish. He saw them all right -- dozens of them.

Soon people all over the county were talking about the strange white catfish that were popping up everywhere. People spotted them in ponds and streams. They even saw catfish walking along the roads. Wherever the catfish went, other fish disappeared. When there was nothing more to eat in a pond, the catfish just hopped out and walked away.

Soon the catfish invasion was on the radio and in the local papers. County officials were calling it an emergency. The new catfish were easy to catch and good to eat, but new catfish were being born all the time and spreading everywhere. And people missed the trout and bass and other fish they used to catch.

Danny felt terrible. It was all his fault. Then his father came back from another business trip. This time he had been in South America. "Now look what I've brought you," he said.

"Are they snails?" Danny asked.

"No, they're hermit crabs," Mr. Burcaster explained. "They live in empty snail shells. And they carry the shells around with them wherever they go. You'll have fun watching them change shells as they grow. Here, I've brought you a supply of bigger shells."

Danny put the hermit crabs into his pond. They grew quickly and changed to new shells. Then they had babies. Soon there were hundreds of them. Then one day a pair of walking catfish flopped into the pond and laid eggs.

"Hey, Dad, look at this!" Danny called. The hermit crabs were eating the catfish eggs.

"Maybe this is the answer," said Mr. Burcaster. So Danny and his cousin Billy Joe rode around the county on their bikes, dropping hermit crabs into ponds and streams.

Sure enough, in the months that followed, there were fewer and fewer walking catfish in the county.

But then the local paper had an article about a new problem: a strange new crab was eating up the vegetables in fields and gardens.

As Mr. Burcaster was leaving for a trip to Africa, Danny said, "This time, Dad, bring me back something that eats crabs."




©1973, 2013 The Silversteins