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What is a Snakehead?

Phil Shepley
Phil Shepley

A snakehead is a type of fish from the family of Channidae, and there are between 30 and 35 different species in the world. Snakeheads are predatory fish, and are native to the continents of Asia and Africa. They are characterized by a large mouth, sharp teeth, and a long dorsal fin, all of which give them a slightly ominous appearance. This is fitting, because snakeheads are an invasive species, meaning they could possibly threaten other indigenous populations of fish if introduced into unfamiliar waters. They are also considered to be valuable delicacies in some countries.

A snakehead can grow to be anywhere between ten inches (25 cm) and three feet (91 cm), depending on the species. When young, they feed on plankton and insects. A more mature fish will expand its diet with food such as other fish, frogs, or even small mammals. Snakeheads usually prefer slow-running, shallow waters with vegetation that they can hide behind, but can survive in a wide variety of habitats, depending on the species.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

A unique attribute of the snakehead is a primitive pair of lungs, known as the suprabranchial organ. This is located just above the gills of the fish. When it needs to, a snakehead can use its fins and body to create a motion that allows it to "walk" on land. As long as it can stay wet, a snakehead can travel for distances of up to one quarter of a mile (0.4 km). This ability, in conjunction with being able to breathe out of water, gives the snakehead the ability to survive both wet and dry seasons in some parts of the world.

In some countries, including the United States, it is illegal to keep snakeheads as pets. Being an invasive species, an individual female has the potential to release hundreds of thousand of eggs within only a few years. They also have no natural predators within their natural habitat. If introduced to foreign waters, they have the potential to destroy and displace local populations of fish and other wildlife.

There have been several sightings of snakeheads throughout the United States, for example in places like Maryland and New York. The fish have already established themselves as part of the ecosystem in the Potomac River, as well as in some parts of Florida. Due to their potential invasiveness, the sightings of snakeheads are usually widely publicized. Many sightings have been hoaxes.

Snakeheads are popular food fish in many places throughout the world, and they can be considered a delicacy. They are usually either farmed or caught in cages from streams. Larger species of snakeheads are also caught as game fish within their native countries.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy