Northern snakehead

Channa argus family

Channidae taxonomy

Ophicephalus argus Cantor, 1842, Chusan Island, China. other common names

German: Amur-Schlangenkopf; Chinese: Hey yu; Japanese: Kamuruchi; Russian: Zmeegolov.

physical characteristics

Length 44.1 in (112 cm); a large snakehead. Has relatively small scales (LL=61-72), no scales on the underside of the jaw, large canine-like teeth on the upper and lower jaws; two horizontal rows of 9-15 irregular dark brown blotches that sometimes coalesce, and brownish pectoral fins with a black mark at the base.


Central China (Yangtze to Luan River basins) including Korea to the Amur River basin, southern Russia; introduced and established in Japan, the United States, and republics in the former Soviet Union adjacent to Caspian Sea.


Lakes, swamps, marshes, reservoirs, and rivers in lowland slow-moving to stagnant temperate waters.


Known to burrow into the mud and hibernate when the water becomes very cold, has not been reported to move over land.

feeding ecology and diet

Feeds on fishes, frogs, prawns, worms, crayfishes, and juvenile water birds.

reproductive biology

Spawns usually in early morning from spring to summer, Male and female build donut-shaped nest about 39.4 in (100 cm) in diameter using aquatic plant debris. Female deposits an average of 7,300 eggs 0.06-0.08 in (0.15-0.2 cm) in diameter; incubation takes about 45 hours at 77°F (25°C). Guarded and cared for by the parents, newly hatched fry are all black, and leave the nest when they reach 0.03 in (0.8 cm), at which size the body has become yellowish.

conservation status

Not threatened; common in almost all areas within its distribution.

significance to humans

One of the most popular food fishes in China, where it is believed to be beneficial for helping in postpartum recovery. ♦

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