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Northern Snakehead Fish

Northern snakehead, Channa argus, Photo by U.S. Geological Survey Archive, U.S. Geological Survey, Bugwood.org

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Common Name: Northern snakehead
Scientific Name: Channa argus
Origin: Asia

Description

Northern snakehead fish have long, narrow bodies with long dorsal and anal fins. They have a large mouth and protruding jaw with canine-like teeth. The fish get their name from the enlarged scales, shape and irregular, blotchy coloration on their head that give a snake-like appearance. Snakehead fish may vary size depending on their age and location, but can grow up to 4 ft. in length.

Habitat

Snakeheads are an aquatic fish that live in freshwater streams, rivers, wetlands or ponds. They prefer low moving to stagnant waters. Snakeheads can survive the cold winters and low oxygen environments. Some snakeheads are capable of breathing atmospheric oxygen and may be able to jump out of the water and onto land.

Threat

Northern snakehead fish are strong predators at the juvenile and adult stages of their life cycle. Many native species are out-competed for food resources. Small prey, such as zooplankton, larvae and small fish and crustacean populations may be threatened by feeding juvenile snakehead fish. Adults devour fish, crustaceans, small amphibians, reptiles, and some birds and mammals. During the spawning season and after the young are born, snakehead fish may become very aggressive towards trespassing species. If the northern snakehead fish becomes established in the United States, it could cost millions of dollars in management, and ecological and recreational damages.

Management

Waters with snakehead fish present can be treated using chemicals. Previous control efforts have found that Rotenone has been successful in lakes and ponds. However, chemical control methods should be done by professionals since the chemicals may affect or kill non-target fish species and may require permits for use. If approved to work with chemicals, always follow the instructions on the label. To prevent more occurrences from happening, it is important to control the current populations and also to educate others on the importance of not releasing or transporting exotic species to new ecosystems.

Regional Distribution

Widespread

WNY PRISM Priority

Tier 4 – Local Control

Invasive Species Priorities – Tier Chart

Pathways

Northern snakehead fish were introduced to New York through aquarium dumping and releases from fish markets. Snakehead fish will spread to unconnected bodies of water since they can travel on land and survive without water for days.

Northern snakehead fish are a prohibited species in New York State – for more information on Prohibited and Regulated Species, visit http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/99141.html.