Maryland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office
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Northern Snakehead

Channa argus

Life Historysnakehead

  • Fishes of the family Channidae are commonly referred to as snakeheads and consist of two genera (Channa and Parachanna) and approximately 21 species. 
  • Snakeheads are freshwater fish, but a few species tolerate low salinity waters. Snakeheads loosely resemble our native bowfin, have toothed jaws and palates, and breathe atmospheric air through the use of a simple labyrinth organ. 
  • Snakeheads can survive out of the water for several days if their skin remains moist and appear to thrive in habitats with low dissolved oxygen levels. Some species are capable of overland migration and they prefer stagnant shallow ponds or swamps with mud substrate and aquatic vegetation or slow streams.
  • Female snakeheads can release up to 15,000 eggs and may spawn from one to five times per year. Newly hatched larvae are protected by one or both parents until they reach the juvenile stage.
  • The northern snakehead has been described as a voracious predator of fishes, which also feeds on freshwater crustaceans. Its native range and temperature tolerance indicates that, if introduced, the northern snakehead could establish wild populations throughout most of the contiguous United States and possibly adjoining Canadian provinces.


  • The northern snakehead has been assigned injurious wildlife status under the Federal Lacey Act. This status prohibits import, export and interstate commerce of northern snakehead without a permit.
  • In 2002, a reproducing population of northern snakehead was discovered in a Crofton, MD pond. The population was exterminated before they could escape from the pond.
  • A mid-Atlantic Aquatic Nuisance Species council was also formed to address the spread of invasives.
  • In April of 2004 a 19 inch long snakehead was captured in Pine Lake in Wheaton, Maryland. The pond was drained and no other snakeheads were found.
  • In May of 2004, snakeheads began to be found in the Potomac River. Juveniles have since been found at several locations.
  • An established population of northern snakeheads on the Potomac River could negatively impact native fish popluations through predation, food and habitat competition or the introduction of diseases and parasites. In addition, the local economy which is dependent on the largemouth bass fishery and tournaments could be severely impacted by the intoduction of northern snakehead.
  • Northern snakeheads have been found in rivers in NY, PA, and AR. Authorities in these states are working to control populations to prevent colonization of additional waterways.

What is being done?

  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to monitor the spread of northern snakehead in the Potomac River. Biologists will use survey data to determine the most efficient way to reduce the spread of this invasive species.
  • If you think you’ve caught a snakehead, kill it and DO NOT put it back in the water. If it is tagged please call the toll free number printed on the tag.
Last updated: February 18, 2016
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