Snakehead (fish)

The snakeheads are members of the freshwater perciform fish family Channidae, native to parts of Africa and Asia. These elongated, predatory fish are distinguished by their long dorsal fins, large mouths, and shiny teeth. They breathe air with gills, which allows them to migrate short distances over land. They have suprabranchial organs which develop when they grow older,[2] which are primitive forms of labyrinth organs. The two extant genera are Channa in Asia and Parachanna in Africa, consisting of about 50 species.

They are valuable as a food source and have become notorious as an intentionally released invasive species.

Snakehead - Channa argus 2
Northern snakehead, Channa argus
Scientific classification

Fowler, 1934


The various species of snakeheads differ greatly in size; dwarf snakeheads, such as Channa orientalis, do not surpass 25 cm (10 in) in length. Most other snakeheads reach between 30 and 90 cm (12 and 35 in). Five species (C. argus, C. barca, C. marulius, C. micropeltes, and C. striata) can reach 1 m (3 ft 3 in) or more.[3]

Snakeheads are thrust-feeders that consume plankton, aquatic insects, and mollusks when small. As adults, they mostly feed on other fish (such as carp) or on frogs. In rare cases, small mammals such as rats are eaten.


The Channidae are well represented in the fossil record and known from numerous specimens. They likely originated in the south Himalayan region of the Indian subcontinent (modern-day northern India and eastern Pakistan) at least 50 million years ago (Mya), during the Early Eocene epoch. Two of the earliest known species, Eochanna chorlakkiensis Roe 1991 and Anchichanna kuldanensis Murray & Thewissen, 2008, have both been found in the Middle Eocene of Pakistan.[1][4] By 17 Mya, during the Early Miocene, Channidae had spread into western and central Eurasia, and by 8 Mya, during the late Tortonian, they existed throughout Africa and East Asia.[5] As Channidae are adapted to climates of high precipitation with mean temperatures of 20°C (68°F), their migrations into Europe and Asia correspond to the development of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, which increased air humidity, and the intensification of the East Asian monsoon. Both weather patterns emerged due to greater vertical growth of the Alps, Pyrenees, and Himalayas, which affected Eurasian climatic patterns.[5]

Ecological concerns

Gabus 070909 0242 rwg
Snakehead murrel, Channa striata, Java, Indonesia

Snakeheads can become invasive species and cause ecological damage because in many areas to which they are not native the absence of natural enemies gives them apex predator status. Not only can they breathe air, but they can also survive on land for up to four days, provided they are wet, and are known to migrate up to 400 m (1/4 mi) on wet land to other bodies of water by wriggling with their bodies and fins. National Geographic has referred to snakeheads as "fishzilla"[6] and the National Geographic Channel reported the "northern snakehead reaches sexual maturity by age two or three. Each spawning-age female can release up to 15,000 eggs at once. Snakeheads can mate as often as five times a year. This means in just two years, a single female can release up to 150,000 eggs."[7]

"Since 2002, it has been illegal to possess a live snakehead in many US states, where they are considered a destructive invasive species."[8] Virginia has criminalized the "introduc[tion]" of snakeheads into the state without specific authorization, although the relevant statute does not explain whether mere importation is sufficient to constitute "introduc[tion] into the Commonwealth" or whether instead release into the environment is required.[9]

Intentional introductions

Humans have been introducing snakeheads to nonindigenous waters for over 100 years. In parts of Asia and Africa, the snakehead is considered a valuable food fish, and is produced in aquacultures (fisheries motivation) or by ignorance (as was the case in Crofton, Maryland). Examples of the introduction of snakeheads to nonindigenous waters include:

  • Channa maculata was introduced to Madagascar and to Hawaii around the end of the 19th century. It can still be found there today.
  • Channa striata was introduced to islands east of the Wallace line by governmental programs in the latter half of the 20th century. In Fiji, the introduction failed.
  • Channa asiatica, which is native to southern China, was introduced to Taiwan and to southern Japan; the origin of and reason for the introduction are unknown.
  • Channa argus, which is native to northern China's Amur River, was introduced to central Asia (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). It was introduced from the Korean Peninsula to Japan about 100 years ago due to fisheries' motivations. Its introduction to Czechoslovakia by its government in the 1960s failed.

Reported sightings

In the United States

Snakeheads became a national news topic in the United States because of the appearance of C. argus, commonly known as northern snakeheads, spawning in a Crofton, Maryland, pond in 2002.[8] Northern snakeheads became permanently established in the Potomac River around 2004;[10] and possibly established in Florida.[8] In about 120 mi (190 km) of river, the population has surpassed 21,000 individuals.[11]

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, snakeheads have also been spotted in California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Rhode Island.[12] In particular, the bullseye snakehead (Channa marulius) has become a major problem throughout South Florida, growing larger than 14 lb (6.4 kg).[13]

According to the International Game Fish Association, Caleb Newton, a Spotsylvania County, Virginia resident, caught a world-record 17 lb 6 oz (7.9 kg) northern snakehead at the junction of Aquia Creek and the Potomac River, United States on June 1, 2013. The previous record, 2 oz (57 g) smaller, had been caught in 2004 in Miki, Kagawa, Japan.[14]

Amia calva 4
A bowfin, a living fossil, often confused with the snakehead

As food

Snakeheads are valuable food fish. Called nga yant in Burmese, it is a prized fish eaten in a variety of ways. In Vietnam, they are called ca loc, ca qua, or ca chuoi; it is prized in clay-pot dishes and pickled preparations. Larger species, such as C. striata, C. maculata, and Parachanna obscura, are farmed in aquaculture. In the United States, chefs have suggested controlling the snakehead invasion by serving them in restaurants.[15] In Indonesia, snakehead fish are called ikan gabus, served as the main parts of traditional dishes such as Betawis' pucung gabus, and considered to be a delicacy due to their rarity in the wild and in aquaculture, as they are harder to raise than other popular freshwater fish such as catfish and carp.

Punkt-Schlangenkopf (Channa pleurophthalma) 5
Channa pleurophthalma

In India. among Snakeheads. Channa marulius, Channa striata and Channa punctatus are the major species . These are air-breathing fishes and they are mainly caught using hook and lines. These are much-preferred food fishes and have good market demand. They are mainly piscivorous and voracious feeders[16]


The snakeheads comprise two extant genera:

  • Channa (46 species native to Asia)
  • Parachanna (four African species, including one only known from fossil remains)

Two other genera are only known from fossils:

In popular culture

After its release in non-native North American waters, either accidentally or intentionally, the aggressive and predator-free snakehead's reputation as a "Frankenfish"[17] or "monster fish" has become part of the culture[18] Besides mentions on TV shows such as The Sopranos[19] and The Office[20] and CSI:NY episode "Sangre por Sangre", the snakehead has been featured in three Sci-fi Channel original pictures entitled Snakehead Terror, Frankenfish, and Swarm of the Snakehead. In the Animal Planet TV series River Monsters, Jeremy Wade shows a dramatization of a snakehead, "the fish from hell", stalking an unsuspecting baby and Chihuahua. With the help of a snakehead researcher, however, Wade shows that although it is capable of living outside of water and is able to move on land, its weak pectoral muscles make movement difficult and render the snakehead an unlikely "stalker" on land.[21]

See also


  1. ^ a b Murray, A. M.; Thewissen, J. G. M. (2008). "Eocene actinopterygian fishes from Pakistan, with the description of a new genus and species of channid (channiformes)". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 28: 41–52. doi:10.1671/0272-4634(2008)28[41:EAFFPW]2.0.CO;2.
  2. ^ Pinter, H. (1986). Labyrinth Fish. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., ISBN 0-8120-5635-3.
  3. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2014). Species of Channa in FishBase. June 2014 version.
  4. ^ Roe, L. J. (1991). "Phylogenetic and Ecological Significance of Channidae (Osteichthyes Teleostei) from the Early Eocene Kuldana Formation of Kohat, Pakistan". Contributions from the Museum of Paleontology. 28 (5): 93–100. hdl:2027.42/48541.
  5. ^ a b Böhme, M. (2004). "Migration history of air-breathing fishes reveals Neogene atmospheric circulation patterns". Geology. 32 (5): 393. doi:10.1130/G20316.1.
  6. ^ Cruz, Elena (2007-12-03). "Snakehead Frenzy!". NGC Blog. National Geographic Channel.
  7. ^ "Fishzilla: Snakehead Invasion". Wild. National Geographic Channel. Archived from the original on 2008-05-15. Video clip titled: "The Northern Snakehead fish wreaks havoc".
  8. ^ a b c Courtenay, Jr., Walter R. and James D. Williams. USGS Circular 1251: Snakeheads (Pisces, Chinnidae) - A Biological Synopsis and Risk Assessment. U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. 2004-04-01. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  9. ^ Code of Virginia § 18.2-313.2: "Any person who knowingly introduces into the Commonwealth any snakehead fish of the family Channidae[...] without a permit from the Director of Game and Inland Fisheries [...] is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor [punishable by up to twelve months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500]."
  10. ^ Potomac snakeheads not related to others Associated Press, Baltimore Sun, 27 April 2007.
  11. ^ 2016, Brian Clark Howard PUBLISHED Thu Mar 17 07:00:00 EDT (2016-03-17). "Fishermen Battle Invasive 'Frankenfish' Snakeheads". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2016-03-18.
  12. ^ "History of introduction in the United States: Four species of snakeheads (Channa argus, C. marulius, C. micropeltes, and C. striata) have been recorded from open waters of the United States (California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island), and two have become established as reproducing populations." Injurious Wildlife Species; Snakeheads Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 17 February 2008.
  13. ^ Southern Fin (2014). "Bullseye Snakehead Fish aka "Frankenfish"" (Blog). Southern Fin. p. 1. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  15. ^ "Chefs' solution for invading 'Frankenfish'? Eat 'em". Retrieved 2014-03-20.
  16. ^ Feroz Khan, M.; Panikkar, Preetha (2009). "Assessment of impacts of invasive fishes on the food web structure and ecosystem properties of a tropical reservoir in India". Ecological Modelling. 220 (18): 2281–2290. doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2009.05.020.
  17. ^ "B.C.'s snakehead caught after Burnaby pond drained. CBC News (Posted: June 8, 2012)". 2012-06-08. Retrieved 2014-03-20.
  18. ^ "The Ultimate Monster Fish: The Frankenfish Snakehead", Carina Suarez, 28 July 2014, National Geographic
  19. ^ "Soprano Home Movies" episode 13, season 6, The Sopranos, 8 April 2007, HBO
  20. ^ The Office US (2018-02-24), Blackmail - The Office US, retrieved 2018-04-01
  21. ^

Further reading

External links

Betawi cuisine

Betawi cuisine is rich, diverse and eclectic, in part because the Betawi people that create them were composed from numbers of regional immigrants that coming from various places in the archipelago, as well as Chinese, Indian, Arab, and European traders, visitors and immigrants that were attracted to the port-city of Batavia (today modern Jakarta) since centuries ago.


Blosnavirus is a genus of viruses, in the family Birnaviridae. Blotched snakehead fish serve as natural hosts. There is currently only one species in this genus: the type species Blotched snakehead virus.

Channa pulchra

Channa pulchra is a species of snakehead fish in the Channidae family which is native to Myanmar. It was first described in 2007 by R. Britz from a specimen collected from the Kyeintali Chaung (stream) basin in Rakhine Yoma, western Myanmar. The fish is found in streams that are fast flowing, clear, highly oxygenated and relatively cold (subtropical). It is of little food value but getting popularity as an aquarium fish recently.Although it has been referred to as a dwarf snakehead, it can reach a total length of up to 30 cm (12 in). C. pulchra is closely related to C. ornatipinnis and C. stiktos.

Channa royi

Channa royi, the Andaman emerald snakehead, is a species of snakehead fish endemic to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India. It is distinct from other snakehead species due to its differing coloration, number of vertebrae, and teeth, most notably its greenish-gray dorsum. Its closest relative is the Burmese snakehead (C. hartcourtbutleri), and like it is a member of the dwarf snakehead group. It is known from the South, Middle, and North Andaman islands, and is abundant in clear, slow-flowing water with rocks and little vegetation, such as ditches, ponds, and hill streams.

Channa striata

Channa striata, the striped snakehead, is a species of snakehead fish. It is also known as the common snakehead, chevron snakehead and snakehead murrel. It is native to South and Southeast Asia, and has been introduced to some Pacific Islands (reports from Madagascar and Hawaii are misidentifications of C. maculata).A genetic study published in 2017 indicates that C. striata is a species complex.

Crofton, Maryland

Crofton is a census-designated place and planned community in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, United States, located just west of the state capital Annapolis. Crofton is located 24 miles (39 km) south of Baltimore, 9.8 miles (15.8 km) west of Annapolis, and 24 miles (39 km) east-northeast of Washington, D.C. The community was established in 1964. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 27,348.


Frankenfish is a 2004 American horror film dealing with genetically engineered fish in the bayou. The film was based on the snakehead fish incident in a Crofton, Maryland, pond. It is one of three movies based on the incident, the others being Snakehead Terror and Swarm of the Snakehead.

Franken fish was filmed in Baldwin County Alabama.

Giant snakehead

The giant snakehead or giant mudfish (Channa micropeltes) is among the largest species in the family Channidae, capable of growing to 1.3 m (4.3 ft) in length and a weight of 20 kg (44 lb). It is native to the fresh waters of Southeast Asia (south Indian populations are now regarded as a separate species, C. diplogramma), but has also been introduced elsewhere, where considered invasive. Other names include xal mas (শাল মাছ) in Assamese, red snakehead, redline snakehead, and Ikan Toman (where "ikan" is fish in Malay).

Lake Erie

Lake Erie () is the fourth-largest lake (by surface area) of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the eleventh-largest globally if measured in terms of surface area. It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. At its deepest point Lake Erie is 210 feet (64 metres) deep.

Situated on the International Boundary between Canada and the United States, Lake Erie's northern shore is the Canadian province of Ontario, specifically the Ontario Peninsula, with the U.S. states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York on its western, southern, and eastern shores. These jurisdictions divide the surface area of the lake with water boundaries.

The lake was named by the Erie people, a Native American people who lived along its southern shore. The tribal name "erie" is a shortened form of the Iroquoian word erielhonan, meaning "long tail".Situated below Lake Huron, Erie's primary inlet is the Detroit River. The main natural outflow from the lake is via the Niagara River, which provides hydroelectric power to Canada and the U.S. as it spins huge turbines near Niagara Falls at Lewiston, New York and Queenston, Ontario. Some outflow occurs via the Welland Canal, part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which diverts water for ship passages from Port Colborne, Ontario on Lake Erie, to St. Catharines on Lake Ontario, an elevation difference of 326 ft (99 m). Lake Erie's environmental health has been an ongoing concern for decades, with issues such as overfishing, pollution, algae blooms, and eutrophication generating headlines.

Lake Wylie

Lake Wylie is a reservoir, or man-made lake in the U.S. states of both South Carolina and North Carolina. The lake has a surface area of 13,400 acres (54 km2) (21sq mi) and features 325 miles (523 km) of shore line.

Northern snakehead

The northern snakehead (Channa argus) is a species of snakehead fish native to China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea, ranging from the Amur River to Hainan. It has been introduced to other regions, where it is considered invasive. In Europe, the first report of the species was from Czechoslovakia in 1956. In the United States, the fish is considered to be a highly invasive species. In a well-known incident, several were found in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, in June 2002, which led to major media coverage and two movies.

Orange-spotted snakehead

The orange-spotted snakehead (Channa aurantimaculata) is a species of snakehead fish. Its body is of brownish colour intermixed with vertical orange stripes. Males have taller dorsal fins with more intense coloration, and narrower heads. It is endemic to Brahmaputra River basin. Its type locality is Dibrugarh, the most northeastern area of Assam, India. Dibrughar is the same type locality as that of Channa bleheri.

This species grows to 16 in (40 cm). It is probably a mouthbrooder, like most of the smaller snakeheads. One report is known from a German aquarist that a couple of his fish had bred.

Parachanna fayumensis

Parachanna fayumensis, is an extinct member of the snakehead fish (Channidae) family known from fossil records only. It is the oldest member of this family known from Africa. It differs from Parachanna insignis, P. africana and P. obscura by presence of prominent raised tooth patch with well-developed tooth sockets on a ventral surface of parasphenoid posterior end. Several skull bones were found in the upper Eocene and lower Oligocene Jebel Qatrani Formation of the Fayum Depression, Egypt.

The zoogeographic importance of this fossil material is that it suggests a Channid migration from India to Africa long before the Miocene.

Predatory fish

Predatory fish are fish that prey upon other fish or animals. Some predatory fish include perch, muskie, pike, walleye and salmon.

Levels of large predatory fish in the global oceans were estimated to be about 10% of their pre-industrial levels by 2003. Large predatory fish are most at risk of extinction; there was a disproportionate level of large predatory fish extinctions during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago. Creation of marine reserves has been found to restore populations of large predatory fish such as the Serranidae — groupers and sea bass.Predatory fish switch between types of prey in response to variations in their abundance. Such changes in preference are disproportionate and are selected for as evolutionarily efficient. Predatory fish may become a pest if they are introduced into an ecosystem in which they become a new top predator. An example, which has caused much trouble in Maryland and Florida, is the snakehead fish.Predatory fish such as sharks and tuna form a part of the human diet, but they tend to concentrate significant quantities of mercury in their bodies if they are high in the food chain, especially as apex predators, due to biomagnification.Predators are an important factor to consider in managing fisheries, and methods for doing so are available and used in some places.


Snakehead may refer to:

Snakehead (band), (also known as K-Much) a South Korean boy band formed in 2014 by Chrome Entertainment.

Snakehead (gang), a type of Chinese gang which is involved in people smuggling

Snakehead (fish), a family of fish known by their family name Channidae

Snakehead (novel), the seventh book in the Alex Rider series, written by Anthony Horowitz about the snakehead gangs

Snakeheads (film), a 2001 film directed by Clarence Fok

Snakehead, a pejorative term for the Goa'uld in the fictional universe of Stargate SG-1

"Snakehead" (Fringe), a 2009 episode of the television series Fringe

Snakehead Terror

Snakehead Terror is a 2004 science fiction-horror television film. It is one of two Sci Fi Channel films based on the snakehead fish incident in a Crofton, Maryland, pond. The other film is Frankenfish. Swarm of the Snakehead is an independently produced creature comedy based on the same Crofton incident, and the only one of the three actually filmed in Maryland. Based on real fish called snakeheads.

Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries

The Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries (formerly the Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries) oversees the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Water stagnation

Water stagnation occurs when water stops flowing. Stagnant water can be a major environmental hazard.

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