Northern snakeheads (Channa argus) are predatory fish native to Asia. They were most likely introduced to New York through aquarium dumpings and both accidental and intentional releases from fish markets. It is crucial that we stop the spread of this invasive predator to protect the health of our waters, wildlife and fishing industry.
Northern snakeheads are long, thin fish with a single fin running the length of the back. They are generally brown with large, dark blotches along their sides and can grow up to three feet long. They have a somewhat flattened head and a large mouth with many teeth. Northern snakeheads are very similar to our native bowfin (Amia calva). Bowfin can most easily be distinguished from snakeheads by a shorter anal fin and a rounded tail fin.
Distribution & Habitat
Northern snakeheads prefers to live in stagnant shallow ponds or swamps, it can inhabit canals, reservoirs, lakes, and rivers.
In New York State, snakeheads were identified in two connected ponds in Queens where steps have been taken to keep the population contained. Another population found in Ridgebury Lake in the town of Wawayanda, Orange County, was eradicted in 2008 using the pesticide rotenone.
Northern snakehead juveniles feed on a wide variety of microscopic organisms, insect larvae, and crustaceans on which native fish rely. As adults, they feed mostly on other fish species, but also eat crustaceans, reptiles, mammals and small birds. Snakeheads have the potential to reduce or even eliminate native fish populations and alter aquatic communities. Municipalities which rely on tourist dollars from recreational fishing may suffer losses should northern snakeheads continue to invade New York waters.
Snakeheads most likely spread from aquarium dumpings and both accidental and intentional releases from fish markets. Anglers and boaters also contribute to their spread by illegally using them as bait or unknowingly transporting juveniles in the water-containing compartments of boats. Snakeheads can also spread to nearby waterbodies on their own as they can breathe air and survive for days out of water.
Northern snakeheads are federally listed as "Injurious Wildlife," meaning they may not be imported or transported between states without a permit. The New York State Part 575 Invasive Species Regulation takes this a step further by prohibiting the possession, sale and transport of snakeheads in the state.
The best method for dealing with northern snakeheads is preventing their spread and establishment. Once they are in an area, however, there is little that can be done to control and manage them. Trap nets, electrofishing and pesticides like rotenone may be used on a case-by-case basis depending on the population size and whether the infested waterbody is connected to other waterbodies.
How You Can Help
- Do not dump aquarium contents in any waterbodies, drainage ditches, or sewers.
- Use certified bait that is non-invasive and disease free.
Learn how to identify northern snakehead and report any encounters.
If you believe you have caught a northern snakehead:
- DO NOT RELEASE IT.
- Take several photos of it from different angles, including the fins, and freeze it, then throw it in the trash after ID has been confirmed
- Email the photos, noting where it was caught (coordinates preferred), to [email protected], OR
- Submit a report through iMapinvasives, OR
- Contact your local Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management