Northern Snakehead Fish: Characteristics, habitat, types and more….

The northern Snakehead Fish or Channa argus  in scientific terms, are just interesting creatures of which really worth learning about. So, don’t miss this chance to learn all about them.

The northern Snakehead Fish are native to China, Russia and North Korea. In many parts of the world, where they were intentionally introduced,  they are considered an invasive species and feared predators.  This is a  very resistant species that can live up to 3 days out of the water.


Animalia Kingdom Phylum: Chordata Class: Actinopterygii  Order: Perciformes  Family: Channidae Genre: Channa
Species: C. argus

The Northern Snakehead Fish’ History

The history of this species goes back many years ago when the inhabitants of ancient China discovered them and a total stir was unleashed by their peculiar traits. Many people believe that Northern Snakehead fish are carnivores and they are commonly nicknamed as “testicles-eaters” because there have already been several testimonies of such a situation on several occasions.

According to the opinion of several researchers, the Northern Snakehead fish are survivors of the dinosaurs’ age being one of the few species that have not undergone many changes over the years.

This is because they have long maintained their diet and body shape much more constant than other species.  The most outstanding trait of the snake-headed fish to which many experts refer is that they do not have a pointed teething like that of other fish.

On the contrary this species is unique among the others because their teeth are scarce and so sharp that they can crush their prey very easily.

The Northern Snakehead Fish’ Main Traits

Northern Snakehead fish have long, narrow bodies with long dorsal fins and veins that resemble a snake’s body. Their extended body  reaches up to 83 cm long (33 inches). It has a dark brown or black color with streaks or snake-like patterns. Their long dorsal fin stretches out almost all of their back. As for their mouth, it is big with an outstanding lower jaw and many teeth.

They have prominent and large eyes which many claim they use to focus and be able to capture their prey without any inconvenience. Northern Snakehead fish are very small fish when they are born, so if we use them in our aquarium is necessary to optimize it because even if they do not reach a large size they like to swim a lot. They can reach a maximum of 35 cm in length so it is necessary to consider improving the conditions for them.

Other traits

    • The northern Snakehead fish are able to breathe air out of the water using a respiratory bladder that is similar to that of a lung.
    • Their body allows them to withstand big temperature changes so they are also considered as family of sharks although they are not really.

We invite you to read our artice the anatomy of fish to learn more about such a topic

here they are

What Do Northern Snakehead Fish Feed On?

Snake heads usually feed on fish, although frogs, crustaceans, small birds, mammals and reptiles can be also part of their diet. In captivity you can give them any fish food that you get in the market, but if you prefer you can also provide natural foods such as lettuce, watercress, spinach and cooked peas.In addition, larvae, plankton and young specimens of small crustaceans can also make-up part of our pet’s diet

Northern seasnakes fish:Male Orange spotted snakehead

Once they reach adulthood, they become a super predator who feeds on frogs, carp, rodents or any other living thing they can gobble up.  Their greatest nutritional activity occurs in the dark mainly after sunset and before sunrise, usually in the vegetation near the shore.

Northern Snakehead Fish’ Habitat and Distribution

Natural distribution Area: Asia, from Russia and Pakistan to the east of the mainland and Indonesia.

Global distribution area: northern Snakehead have been introduced in Japan and rivers of Kazakhistán, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the United States of America.


They are freshwater fish that live in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and wetlands, with a common characteristic that is aerial respiration, for what they use a sub-gill organ and a bifurcated ventral aorta that helps them breathe out of the water. This unusual breathing system allows them to live out of the water for several days, which facilitates their movement between masses of water and be transported with relative ease to the aquariums.


Northern Snakehead Fish’ Reproduction and Life Cycle

Their Spawning occurs from June to July. The females are able to produce up to 15,000 eggs from one to five times each year. The eggs’ incubation time takes from 1 to 2 days.

The larvae remain in the nest, which is guarded by both parents feeding on the yolk in which they are wrapped. After that, they feed on small crustaceans and larvae of other fish.

Young specimens can be golden brown or light gray in color, becoming darker as they get older. The northern snake-headed fish reaches sexual maturity at 2 years of age.

northern snakehead fish: juvenile northern snake head specimen

Other Snakehead Species

Let’s meet now the whole family

Bulleyes Snakehead fish: (Channa marulius.)

This is a native species of Southeast Asia but has been introduced in other countries. In India it’s  common to see them  in reservoirs. It’s a species capable of breathing in the air. Cobra Snakehead fish are able to stay a couple of days out of the water and can devour even people. In addition, it worth pointing out  that they are  carnivorous creatures as well as faster-growing fish than most other species of the genus.

In southern India they are commonly found in reservoirs and  sold alive  reaching high prices in the market. Their meat has a high nutritional value and it’s thought to have wound healing effect and recovery attributes. In India, fingerlings are collected in nets and thrown into shallow irrigation wells, where they are fed with domestic waste and reach a length of 30 cm in a year, when they are moved alive to the market for sale.

Let’s meet them

Giant Snakehead, Indonesian snakehead (Channa micropeltes)


The juveniles are red with orange and black lateral stripes that appear after two months of life. Adults lose the stripes and red color, and in turn develop a bluish-black and white pattern on the upper part of their body. In some countries juveniles are sold in aquariums where they are called red snakeheads.

This is a broad-spectrum predator located at the top of the trophic chain, so it feeds on fish, amphibians and even small birds. The Giant Snakehead is considered a gregarious species, with juveniles following closely its progenitor. They can breathe and to move on land, although only in areas flooded with silt.


1000 – 1300 mm.


This species is widespread in much of Southeast Asia,  extending from the drainage of the Mekong River in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, to the center and south. It also occurs in a series of smaller archipelagos, including Bangka and Belitung (Billiton). They have also been reported in several US states  such as Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Virginia and Wisconsin, but it is believed that it has not been totally established due to its tropical requirements.


The Giant Snakehead shows a preference for standing in front of slow-moving environments, such as larger and deeper lowland river channels, inland lakes and swamps, including artificial canals and reservoirs.

Let’s watch them

Striped snakehead (Channa striata)

This fish is also known as common snakehead, chevron snakehead and snakehead murrel. It is native to South and Southeast Asia, and has been introduced in some Pacific islands. The channa striata fish grows up to one meter in length, although due to their massive fishing, they rarely meet this size in nature. They can be found mainly in southern China, Pakistan and most of India.

The only confirmed population in Hawaii is found in a commercial fish farm. It is an important food for human consumption in all its natural distribution area, and it has a huge economic importance. Adults are dark brown with faint black stripes all over their body. Both males and females help to build a nest made of aquatic vegetation during breeding time. The eggs are guarded by both parents. The fry are reddish orange and are guarded by both parents until they turn a greenish-brown color and reach a size around 5.6 cm.

It is common to see them in the freshwater plains, where they migrate from the rivers and lakes to flooded fields, then returning to the permanent bodies of water during the dry season, where they survive by digging in the mud. They feed on frogs, aquatic insects and smaller fish.

enjoy them

Channa Striata in Gastronomy

These interesting creatures also have a huge use in the gastronomic world. A curry made with this fish and tapioca is a delicacy in Kerala. In Indonesia and the Philippines are also much consumed either fried, grilled or with soup. The dishes that use striped snakehead this are eaten with rice are very popular in Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Snakehead Fish in Aquariums.

There are many controversies regarding how advisable it is maintaining Channas or snakehead fish in aquariums. Their names are on the black lists of species allowed for importation in various countries, while in others they are traded very cheaply.

Juveniles specimens tend to have colorful coloring patterns that are lost when growing, which together with the large size that some species reach make their caregivers lose interest and end up releasing them to the environment, causing, undoubtedly, great damage to local biodiversity, who ends up getting more affected

The responsibility and common sense force those who cannot keep this type of pets, to give them away or sacrifice them. However, the solution that prevails is to throw these fish to a body of local water, becoming a true headache, which for many governments gets out of control. Mexico, for example, was forced to use extreme measures such as the drying out of complete bodies of water and the use of poisons to contain the advance of the snakehead fish.

On the other hand, the Channas or snakehead fish are still fish kept by the aquarists of the whole world. The ichthyofauna of India gives us a group of species, which enter between the so-called “dwarf snakeheads «, which don’t exceed 20 cm and far from being these monsters demonized to which the popular media culture marginalizes, they are fish that gather characteristics very appreciated by aquarists, such as: beautiful colors, size between small and medium, sociability with other fish of similar characteristics and why not, predation, which is an attraction for many.

Enjoy them

How Do Snakehead Fish affect the Ecosystem?

Snakehead fish usually compete with native species for food and habitat. A major concern is that snakeheads might out-compete and even displace important native fish that share the same habitat. As adults, snakeheads can be voracious predators.

Can Snakehead Fish Harm Humans?

Most snakehead fish will avoid contact with humans. In captivity, many will actually act shy around people. However, when guarding their off springs they can become aggressive if approached. The giant snakehead has been reported to be aggressive towards humans who got too close to their nest.

Other snakeheads are not as aggressive towards humans. Caution is always advisable when handling live snakehead, just as for other large predatory fish with teeth.

Snakehead Fish and Human Beings

These fish are widely consumed in Southeast Asia, so they are bred in aquaculture farms in huge volumes. Their ability to live out of the water for several days — if kept moist — is used to transport them alive and thus to bring them fresh to the consumer markets without previously frozen them.

They are also captured for the International aquarium fish market.  The most widespread species are the Giant Snakehead,

The northern snakehead and Cobra snake head. All three are invasive alien species in the Iberian Peninsula and other regions of the world. Since it is a broad spectrum predator, located at the top of the trophic chain, they can put at risk the native populations of innumerable species of vertebrates related to freshwater water environments.

Let’s watch

Invasive Species.

Northern snakehead fish have been introduced in several countries becoming invasive species. They are fearsome predators at any stage of their life cycle who become a true threat for local species. While juvenile specimens feed on small prey, such as zooplankton, larvae, and small fish, adult specimens tend to prefer fish, crustaceans, small amphibians, reptiles, and some birds and mammals. 

It’s   believed that the northern snakehead fish entered in countries like USA when aquarium owners discarded them into local waterways being usually confused with the native bowfin and burbot. Thus, this is a situation that must be seriously considered by anyone who wants to have an exotic pet without thinking first about the future consequences.

Some measures have been taken like not-allowing the possession of these fish in some states. In addition, Waters with snakehead fish presence can be treated using chemicals however this is a very risky process that must be carried out by experts, since otherwise serious damage to the ecosystem can be done.

Snakehead Fish Recipe

Let’s learn about a just delicious recipe of these stunning fish

Steamed Snakehead Fillet with Oyster Sauce


3 snakehead fillets
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 slices ginger
1 sprig spring onion, cut into 1 inch lengths
2 small chilies, sliced
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oil


*Lightly rinse fillets and lay them on a steaming plate.
* Mix the oyster sauce and light soy in a bowl and spoon over the fillets.
* Put the sliced ginger and some spring onion over the fillet.
* Steam over medium heat for about 6 minutes (sliced fish cook faster).
* Discard the ginger and onion.
* In a small bowl, toss in the chopped garlic and oil. Mix well.
* Heat the garlic in a pan over medium heat for about 1 to 2 minutes or until crispy.
* Spoon the crispy garlic and oil over the fish, garnish and serve.

Serves 3

Bon appétit


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