Common name: Giant Snakehead
Synonyms and Other Names: Ophicephalus micropeltes
available through www.itis.gov
Identification: Snakeheads (family Channidae) are morphologically similar to the North American native Bowfin (Amia calva), and the two are often misidentified for one another. Morphological differences used for identification between the two are depicted here. Snakeheads can be distinguished from Bowfin by the position of pelvic fins which are directly behind pectoral fins in snakeheads, but farther back on body in Bowfin. The size of the Bowfin's anal fin is 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, called the gular plate, on the bottom of the lower jaw and a distinctive method of swimming through undulation of the dorsal fin.
A key and and distinguishing characteristics are given in Smith (1945) and Talwar and Jhingran (1992). A few other distinguishing characteristics also are provided by Roberts (1989) and Kottelat et al. (1993). Color photographs appear in Axelrod et al. (1985), Kottelat et al. (1993), and Sakurai et al. (1993). For color photographs of other Channa species, see Masuda et al. (1984).
Size: 100 cm and more than 20 kg (Roberts 1989)
Native Range: Tropical Asia. Southeast Asia including India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Borneo, Java, Bangka, Belitung (Roberts 1989).
Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Puerto Rico &
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps
Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Channa micropeltes are found here.
Table last updated 9/28/2023
† Populations may not be currently present.
Ecology: The Giant Snakehead prefers lakes, reservoirs, canals, and rivers—most commonly deep, standing or slow flowing water (Courtenay and Williams, 2004). It nests in a circular area that the parents clear of vegetation. The eggs rise in the water column where they are guarded by parents even after they hatch. 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).
Means of Introduction: Most likely all aquarium releases.
Status: Not known to be established in the United States. Reported from Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Impact of Introduction: The impacts of this species are currently unknown, as no studies have been done to determine how it has affected ecosystems in the invaded range. The absence of data does not equate to lack of effects. It does, however, mean that research is required to evaluate effects before conclusions can be made.
References: (click for full references)
Axelrod, H. R., W. E. Burgess, N. Pronek, and J. G. Walls. 1985. Dr. Axelrod's atlas of freshwater aquarium fishes. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.
Baird, I.G., V. Inthaphaisy, P. Kisouvannalat, B. Phylaivanh and B. Mounsouphom. 1999. The Fishes of Southern Lao (In Lao). Lao Community Fisheries and Dolphin Protection Project, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Pakse, Lao PDR.
Cardoza, J. E., G. S. Jones, T.W. French, and D. B. Halliwell. 1993. Exotic and translocated vertebrates of Massachusetts, 2nd edition. Fauna of Massachusetts Series 6. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Publication 17223-110-200-11/93-C.R, Westborough, MA.
Courtenay, W. R., Jr., and D. A. Hensley. 1979. Survey of introduced non-native fishes. Phase I Report. Introduced exotic fishes in North America: status 1979. Report Submitted to National Fishery Research Laboratory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gainesville, FL.
Courtenay, Jr., W.R. and J.D. Williams. 2004. Snakeheads (Pisces: Channidae): A biological synopsis and risk assessment. Circular 1251, U.S. Geological Survey, Gainesville, FL. 143 pp.
Hartel, K. E. 1992. Non-native fishes known from Massachusetts freshwaters. Occasional Reports of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Fish Department, Cambridge, MA. 2. September. pp. 1-9.
Kottelat, M., A. J. Whitten, S. N. Kartikasari, and S. Wirjoatmodjo. 1993. Freshwater fishes of Western Indonesia and Sulawesi. Periplus Editions, Ltd., Republic of Indonesia. 221 pp. (+ plates).
Masuda, H., K. Amaoka, C. Araga, T. Uyeno, and T. Yoshino, editors. 1984. The fishes of the Japanese Archipelago. Tokai University Press. Text: i-xxii + 437 pp.; atlas: pls. 1-370.
Roberts, T. R. 1989. The freshwater fishes of Western Borneo (Kalimantan Barat, Indonesia). Memoirs of the California Academy of Science 14. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA. 210 pp.
Smith, H. M. 1945. The fresh-water fishes of Siam, or Thailand. Bulletin of the U.S. National Museum (Smithsonian Institution) 188:1-622.
Stolgitis, J.A. - Rhode Island Division of Fish and Game, RI (brief response to a letter from W. Courtenay dated 6 September 1979).
Talwar, P. K., and A. G. Jhingran, editors. 1992. Inland fishes of India and adjacent countries. A. A. Balkema, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Two volumes.
Nico, L.G., Fuller, P.L., and Neilson, M.
Revision Date: 5/26/2020
Peer Review Date: 5/2/2013
Nico, L.G., Fuller, P.L., and Neilson, M., 2023, Channa micropeltes (Cuvier in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1831): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=414, Revision Date: 5/26/2020, Peer Review Date: 5/2/2013, Access Date: 9/28/2023
This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.