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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:

The northern snakehead's elongated body grows to 33 inches in length. It has tan, dark brown or black coloring with a mottled, snake-like pattern. Its long dorsal fin runs along most of its back. It has a large mouth with a protruding lower jaw and many teeth.

Habitat:

Northern snakeheads inhabit ponds, lakes, streams, rivers and other freshwater areas. They can live out of water for up to four days if kept moist and will lie dormant in mud during droughts.

Range:

Found in the Potomac River and several of its tributaries in Maryland and Virginia. Snakeheads are native to China, Russia and Korea.

Feeding:

Snakeheads prefer to eat fish, but will also feed on frogs, crustaceans and small birds, mammals or reptiles.

Predators:

There are no natural predators of the northern snakehead in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Spawning occurs in June to July. Females can lay as many as 15,000 eggs one to five times per year. Eggs hatch in 1 to 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. The northern snakehead 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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