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Northern Snakehead

Channa argus

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Northern Snakehead. Also called: Amur snakehead, eastern snakehead, ocellated snakehead

Northern Snakehead. Also called: Amur snakehead, eastern snakehead, ocellated snakehead

Species of the Family Channidae are commonly referred to as Snakeheads. Scientists believe that the Northern Snakeheads found in lakes in some US cities may have originated from food markets. Some may have been released to the wild in an ill-advised attempt at fish stocking or because they were no longer wanted as pets.

Identifying features

The body of snakeheads is torpedo-shaped and tapered towards the tail. Snakeheads have a single, long dorsal fin, a long anal fin, and a small head with a large mouth. They have eyes on the side of the head and the nostrils are found at the front of the head and are tubular in shape.

Similar species (native)

Bowfin (Amia calva)

Can be distinguished from the Northern Snakehead by its black spot at the base of the tail (males and juveniles), its pelvic fins distant from the gills and by its short anal fin.

Burbot (Lota lota)

It has a single chin barbel and a split dorsal fin.

American Eel (Anguilla rostrata)

Can be distinguished from the Northern Snakehead by its absence of pelvic fins and by its extremely elongated dorsal and anal fin.

Where it has been found

A northern snakehead was removed from an artificial pond in Burnaby, BC following reports to authorities. No established snakehead populations are known in B.C. This species has not been found yet in any natural waters in Canada.


They are primarily freshwater species though a few species are tolerant to varying salinities. Most snakehead species are native to warmer regions and thus unlikely to thrive in Canadian waters or survive our cold winters. But some, such as the Northern Snakehead, occur naturally in colder waters.

Potential ecological and economic impacts

Should they find a way into natural freshwater ecosystems; snakeheads have the potential to cause enormous damage to recreational and commercial fisheries, including salmon. Snakeheads can eat practically any small animal or fish they encounter. They can travel across land, live out of water for at least three days and reproduce quickly.


Native to Russia, Korea and Yunnan Province of China.

Potential mode of dissemination

The most likely vectors from which Northern Snakehead could be introduced in Canada include colonization from United-States and deliberate and accidental releases.

For further information

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