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Water chestnut (Trapa natans)
Photo credit:  JW/Flickr

Giant Snakehead

(Channa micropeltes)

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If you believe you have found this species anywhere in Pennsylvania, please report your findings to iMapInvasives by submitting an observation record.

Species at a Glance

The giant snakehead is a daytime predator, feeding on fishes, frogs, and birds. It has a reputation of being very aggressive and even attacking humans (Courtenay and Williams, 2004).


Snakeheads (family Channidae) are morphologically similar to the North American native bowfin (Amia calva), and the two are often misidentified. Snakeheads can be distinguished from bowfin by the position of pelvic fins (directly behind pectoral fins in snakeheads, farther back on body in bowfin) and the size of the anal fin (elongate and similar in size to dorsal fin in snakeheads, short and much smaller than dorsal fin in bowfin). Additionally, bowfin can be identified by the presence of a bony plate between the lower jaws (gular plate) and a distinctive method of swimming through undulation of the dorsal fin.


The giant snakehead prefers to inhabit lakes, reservoirs, canals, and rivers; most commonly deep, standing or slow flowing water.  It nests in a circular area, which the parents clear of vegetation.  Eggs rise and drift in the water column where they are guarded by parents.  C. micropeltes ferociously guard their eggs, even attacking humans who approach the nest.


Juveniles are sold in the aquarium trade. Its means of introduction into North America likely came from aquarium releases.


The giant snakehead is native to tropical Asia. Also southeast Asia including India, Burma?, Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Banka, and Billiton (Roberts 1989). Loas (Baird et al. 1999). In North America, giant snakehead has been reported in Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennesee, and Wisconsin.


The impact of introduction from the giant snakehead is currently unknown.  However, in its native habitat, this aggressive predator is destructive to other fishes, killing all kinds and sizes in excess of actual needs (Roberts 1989). 


Information for this species profile comes from the USGS NAS Giant Snakehead fact sheet.

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