Channa micropeltes
Channa micropeltes
(Giant Snakehead)
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Channa micropeltes (Cuvier in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1831)

Common name: Giant Snakehead

Synonyms and Other Names: Channa micropeltis, Ophicephalus micropeltes

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Snakeheads (family Channidae) are morphologically similar to the North American native Bowfin (Amia calva), and the two are often misidentified for one another. 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 gualr 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.

Native Range: Tropical Asia. Southeast Asia including India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Borneo, Java, Banka, Billiton (Roberts 1989).

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Nonindigenous Occurrences: One fish (272 mm SL) was taken below Springvale Dam on the Mousam River, near Sanford, York County, Maine, during the summer of 1976 (USGS/BRD-G database). Two specimens were collected from the Saco River prior to 1979 (Courtenay and Hensley 1979a), but these records require verification. Two specimens were reported from unspecified localities and a third from Baltimore's Inner Harbor in Maryland in recent years (Courtenay and Williams 2004). One fish (318 mm SL) was taken by an angler (who claimed to have caught a second specimen), at Pomps Pond (Merrimack drainage) in Andover, Essex County, Massachusetts, in August 1990 (Hartel 1992; Cardoza et al. 1993; Hartel et al. 1996). The two reports from Rhode Island likely represent duplication of a single record: one fish (209 mm SL) taken from an unspecified pond (Courtenay, personal communication).  A single fish collected from Poplar Tree Lake, Tennessee, in December 2005, was originally misidentified as C. argus. One fish taken by an angler at Johnston Pond in Coventry, Kent County, in 1968 (J. A. Stolgitis, personal communication); and in the Rock River, Janesville, Wisconsin (J. Hennessy, pers. comm.).

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: All probably aquarium releases.

Status: Reported from Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Impact of Introduction: Unknown.

Remarks: Prefers lakes, reservoirs, canals, and rivers; most commonly deep, standing or slow flowing water.  Nest 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. In its native habitat, this aggressive predator is destructive to other fishes, killing all kinds and sizes in excess of actual needs (Roberts 1989). There is some confusion surrounding the Massachusetts record: the specimen was originally identified as Ophicephalus marulius (= Channa striata) (Halliwell, personal communication); the same fish was later reidentified as Channa cf. micropeltes, but with an error in the collection year [1991] (Hartel 1992), and finally as Channa sp. in Cardoza et al. (1993). Identification as C. micropeltes has since been verified (Hartel, personal communication).

Voucher specimens: Massachusetts (MCZ 96907); Maine (voucher specimen reported to be in University of Maine collection - UMO); Rhode Island (UMO 343).

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. - Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.

Courtenay, W. R., Jr., and D. A. Hensley. 1979a. 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.

NBS-G - National Biological Service - Gainesville, FL (now US Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division).

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.

FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 1/8/2018

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson, 2018, Channa micropeltes (Cuvier in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1831): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 1/8/2018, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 3/22/2018

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.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/22/2018].

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