Channa striata (Bloch, 1793)
Figure 1: Live adult specimen of the common snakehead (Photo: Eric Er; used with permission)
The common snakehead has a wide natural distribution ranging from tropical Southern Asia to most of Southeast Asia
Figure 2: Native and introduced distribution of the common snakehead Channa striata (after Chaudhry, 2010
Within its native range, the common snakehead is widespread throughout lowland regions
Figure 3: An open-canopy stream within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Singapore (A) and artificial pond habitat, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Singapore (B), where the common snakehead may be found (Photos: Kenny W.J. Chua)
Although the exact colour may vary, the live adult common snakehead can be distinguished from most other adult snakeheads by its relatively plain colour pattern, lacking distinct spots or blotches
Figure 4: Compared to most other snakeheads that are found in Singapore, the adult common snakehead lacks bold patterns and colours (from A to D: dwarf snakehead (Channa gachua), forest snakehead (Channa lucius), giant snakehead (Channa micropeltes), common snakehead (Channa striata) (Photos: A—Kenny W.J. Chua; B—reproduced from siamensis.org, 2011
Figure 5: Comparing the common snakehead (Channa striata; A) and black snakehead (Channa melasoma; B) (Photos: Eric Er (A), Tan Heok Hui (B), used with permission; annotations added by Kenny W.J. Chua)
Figure 6: Jawline morphology of the common snakehead and the black snakehead; the common snakehead has a jawline that converges towards the snout, while that of the black snakehead is slightly divergent (after Ng & Lim, 1990
Body proportions of the common snakehead also differ from the black snakehead. Postorbital head length is between 28.6–37.2%; interorbital width is 5.1–8.9%; preopercular length ranges between 6.2–26.4%; pelvic-anal distance ranges from 3.5–8.8%; caudal length is 11.9–23.3% (measurements are in percentage of standard length)
Figure 7: Morphometric measurements commonly used for diagnosing snakeheads (Illustration: Kenny W.J. Chua)
Juvenile snakeheads differ in appearance from adults. The larvae of most species have orange/red and black longitudinal bands that fade as the fish matures. However, the young of the common snakehead and the dwarf snakehead (Channa gachua) cannot be easily distinguished from each other—both possess a single broad orange (not red) longitudinal side along each flank, and black stripes are absent
Figure 8: Juvenile common snakehead with pseudo-ocellus on rear of dorsal fin (circled) (Photo: Cai Yixiong, used with permission; annotation added by Kenny W.J. Chua)
The common snakehead can reach a maximum size of 90 cm (standard length; see Figure 7) and weigh up to 3 kg
The common snakehead is a voracious predator that feeds on a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate prey. Adults feed mainly on fishes, frogs, tadpoles and crustaceans
]]>. Its relatively drab colouration allows the animal to camouflage amongst aquatic vegetation and debris
Like most other snakeheads, the common snakehead mainly hunts at night. This species is a solitary ambush predator (Video 1) that appears to be most active at dusk
Video 1: Captive common snakehead feeding on shrimp (Video: YouTube user 69peterek)
The common snakehead is an obligate air-breather—regular trips to the surface are needed to obtain atmospheric oxygen
As with other snakeheads, it is difficult to distinguish between male and female common snakeheads since their external morphologies are highly similar. However, females are on average larger than males
Spawning has been reported throughout most of the year, and peaks during periods of high rainfall
Video 2: A mating pair of peacock snakeheads (Channa pulchra) exhibiting the spawning embrace typical of snakeheads (Video: YouTube user Paul Jones)
Brood care in the common snakehead is well developed, and adults are noted to be aggressive when guarding young
g9Figure 9: A shoal of young common snakeheads near the shore of MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore (Photo: Kenny W.J. Chua)
Video 3: A pair of giant snakeheads (Channa micropeltis) guarding their brood—the common snakehead behaves similarly (Video: YouTube user David OKY)
As food fish
The common snakehead (along with other large snakehead species) is a favoured food fish in much of Southeast Asia, including Singapore
Figure 10: Common snakeheads sold in a marketplace at Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan (A) (Photo: Tan Heok Hui, used with permission); live common snakehead in a marketplace in Singapore; note the high density made possible by the hardiness of the fish (B) (Photo: Eric Er, used with permission)
Figure 11: Common snakehead cooked in soup (Photo: Terry Wong, used with permission)
Common snakeheads are mostly produced in monoculture systems, where they are kept at high densities in outdoor ponds
As sport fish
The common snakehead is occasionally fished for sport (Video 4). It is said to respond well to both baits and lures
Video 4: Common snakehead being fished from a flooded roadside ditch. (Video: YouTube user Channa Anglers)
As aquarium pets
Given its potential size, a suitably large tank is required to maintain the common snakehead in captivity. Apart from that, common snakeheads are (with a few caveats) relatively easy to maintain in aquaria because of their air-breathing ability and tolerance for a wide range of pH values
As ambush predators, common snakeheads tend to move in sudden bursts—therefore tank decor must be firmly secured to prevent them from toppling and injuring the fishes. They tend to be highly territorial and aggressive towards most fishes, so tankmates are generally not recommended. While some specimens might initially eat nothing but live food, they can be trained to take commercial pellet food, supplemented by occasional meaty treats.
As pest fish
While the common snakehead is native to Singapore, the highly predatory nature of adults of this species is a potential threat to aquaculture of other freshwater fishes
However, while widely introduced as a food fish, the common snakehead has not been listed as an invasive species under the Global Invasive Species Database unlike its congener the northern snakehead (Channa argus)
Figure 12: Blotched snakehead in an aquarium shop in Singapore (Photo: Kenny W.J. Chua)
Given its widespread distribution and tolerance, the common snakehead is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List
However, Channa striata is possibly a species complex (see Species complex)
Unlike some forest-dwelling snakehead species in Singapore
Taxonomy and systematics
|Genus||Channa Scopli, 1777|
|Species||Channa striata (Bloch, 1793)|
(After Integrated Taxonomic Information System
The genus name Channa is derived from the Greek word “channe”, referring to an unspecified sea perch
Ophicephalus striatus Bloch, 1793
No holotype was designated for Channa striata. Instead, there are two syntypes currently deposited in the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin: ZMB 1400 and ZMB 6522 . The type locality is Tranquebar, Malabar, India
Body largely cylindrical in cross-section but slightly compressed dorso-ventrally
Lateral line scales 53–55
Channa striata was originally described as Ophicephalus striatus Bloch, 1793
“Body elongated and striped, with head tapering to a point. Lower jaw longer than upper jaw. Ventral fins small, dorsal and anal fins with brown, oblique striations. Nasal tentacles present.”
The rest of Bloch's description of the species mentions meristic characters and internal anatomy.
The genera Channa Scopoli, 1777
Figure 13: Bloch's original description of Ophicephalus striatus
The wide-ranging native distribution of Channa striata suggests that it might be a species complex
The family Channidae comprises of two genera—the Eurasian Channa (ca. 26 species) and the African Parachanna (three species). It is thought that the Channoidei, which contains Channidae as the sole family, is closely related to the Percoidei and Anabantoidei. The affinity of the Channoidei to the latter group
Molecular phylogeny of the Channidae suggests that both Channa and Parachanna are monophyletic clades
Figure 14: Maximum-likelihood tree for the Channidae reconstructed using the ND2 gene and flanking sequences as characters. Numbers above and below branches represent Bayesian posterior probability values and bootstrap probabilities obtained from 500 replications of maximum-parsimony analysis, respectively. Bold lines correspond to indicated characters, i.e., gular scales and scale(s) on lower jaw. (Reproduced from Li et al., 2006
Figures 1, 5 & 10. Photographs by Eric Er.
Figures 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 & 12. Map, photographs and illustrations by Kenny W.J. Chua.
Figures 4, 5 & 10. Photographs by Tan Heok Hui.
Figure 8. Photograph by Cai Yixiong.
Figure 11. Photograph by Terry Wong.
Figure 13. Scan of manuscript
Figure 14. Figure by Li et al. (2006)
Video 1. "Channa striata vs shrimp HD" by 69peterek YouTube Channel, 2 Jul 2013. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_2lv9rZUCs [cited 21 Nov 2015]
Video 2. "Snakeheads Spawning Ritual - Eggs Released" by Paul Jones YouTube Channel, 21 Oct 2012. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxZqQxhTV5A [cited 2015 1 Nov].
Video 3. "Beautiful leisurely Giant snakehead fish and fry" by David OKY YouTube Channel, 19 May 2014. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnNHozXqnyM [cited 2015 1 Nov].
Video 4. "Channa Anglers Common Snakehead Haruan Gabus Fishing Channa Striata" by Channa Anglers YouTube Channel, 24 Aug 2014. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WBcB5ilGes [cited 21 Nov 2015]
See linked documents to understand how this page was conceptualised, and the methods used in compiling the relevant information.
Last updated by Kenny W.J. Chua (kenny.chua[at]u.nus.edu) on 21 Nov 2015.
This page was authored by Kenny Chua Wei Jie
Last curated on 21 Nov 2015