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Northern Snakehead

Channa argus

The northern snakehead is a large fish that has a long body with a mottled, snake-like pattern. (U.S. Geological Survey Archive/Bugwood.org)
The northern snakehead is a large fish that has a long body with a mottled, snake-like pattern. (U.S. Geological Survey Archive/Bugwood.org)

The northern snakehead is a large, long fish with a mottled, snake-like pattern. It lives in the Potomac River and its local creeks and streams. It is an invasive species.

Appearance:

  • Elongated body
  • Tan, dark brown and/or black with a mottled, snake-like pattern
  • Large mouth with a protruding lower jaw and many teeth
  • Long dorsal fin that runs along most of the back
  • Grows to 33 inches long

Habitat:

  • Ponds, lakes, streams, rivers and other freshwater areas
  • Lies dormant in mud during droughts
  • Can live out of water for up to four days if kept moist

Range:

  • Found in the Potomac River and several of its tributaries in Maryland and Virginia
  • Native to China, Russia and Korea

Feeding:

  • Prefers to eat fish
  • Will also feed on frogs, crustaceans and small birds, mammals or reptiles

Predators:

  • No natural predators in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawns in June-July
  • Females can lay as many as 15,000 eggs one to five times per year
  • Eggs hatch in 1-2 days
  • Larvae remain in the nest, which both parents guard
  • Larvae are nourished by a yolk that they absorb by the time they are less than one-third of an inch long. After that, they feed on small crustaceans and fish larvae.
  • Young may be golden brown or pale gray, darkening as they grow older
  • Reaches sexual maturity at 2 years old

Other Facts:

  • Able to breathe air from the atmosphere using an air bladder that works similar to a lung
  • First discovered in the Bay watershed in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, in 2002
  • It is illegal to move, possess or release snakeheads in Maryland. It is also illegal to transport snakeheads across state lines without a federal permit.
  • If you catch a northern snakehead in Maryland or Virginia, you are required to kill it
  • If you catch a northern snakehead outside of the tidal Potomac River in Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources asks that you report it by calling (410) 260-8287. In Virginia, you must report all northern snakehead catches to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries by calling (804) 367-2925.

Sources and Additional Information:




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