Sometimes it takes a kid to truly think outside the box. Such is the case of 12-year-old science fair entrant Lauren Arrington, who decided to investigate lionfish, which the Florida native had observed up close while snorkeling and fishing in the ocean. "Scientists were doing plenty of tests on them, but they just always assumed they were in the ocean," Lauren, now 13, tells NPR. "So I was like, 'Well, hey guys, what about the river?'" Using only six fish and six tanks, she was able to demonstrate something entirely unknown thus far: Lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water.
Lionfish are an invasive species with no known predators along the Florida coast, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Because of the implications for estuaries should the venomous predators make their way inland, ecologist Craig Layman says scientists should have looked into this long ago and calls Lauren's work "one of the most influential 6th-grade science projects ever conducted." His team has become the first to demonstrate that lionfish can live in water with a salinity of just 5 parts per million (ocean water is 35), and credits Lauren for coming up with the idea in the first place. Lauren, meanwhile, had stopped testing when she got as low as 6 parts per million because one of the science fair rules was to keep the fish alive and she didn't want to risk being disqualified. (Read why you should eat lionfish.)