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Northern Snakehead

(Channa argus)

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 Quick Care Facts

• Care Level: Expert   • Temperament: Aggressive   • Maximum Size: 40"
• Minimum Tank Size: 500 gallons   • Water Conditions: 58-70° F, pH 6.0-8.0, dH 5-15
• Diet: Carnivore   • Origin: Russia, China, Korea   • Family: Channidae
• Species: Snakeheads   • Aquarium Type: New World Cichlid

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Species Information

Northern Snakehead native habitat, distribution, behavior & aquarium compatibility.

The Northern Snakehead is one of the largest freshwater species within the hobby; in their natural environment, they can be found in cool waters within the dense vegetation of lakes, ponds, and rivers throughout China, Korea, and Russia.

They are named for the snake-like appearance of their heads. Northern Snakeheads are one of the few social species of the Channidae family and they usually hunt in packs and will also school together as juveniles.

Northern Snakeheads have an accessory respiratory organ, which allows them to breathe out of the water for days (it is how they spread to other areas when heavy flooding occurs) and they are the only Channa species that can survive massive temperature ranges from 32° to 85°F.

Northern Snakeheads are currently banned throughout the United States, all of Europe, Australia, several Canadian provinces, and New Zealand) making them illegal to own without a permit (although they are still thriving in aquariums and ponds in other countries around the world). Outside of the United States the species is very popular and readily available.

Aquarium Care

How to successfully keep Northern Snakehead in the home aquarium.

Northern Snakeheads require and aquarium of 500 gallons (preferably larger) as they will grow to be up to 40" long. They appreciate a sandy to smooth gravel substrate with several large pieces of driftwood as well as rock caves for shelter. They will thrive with dense, live vegetation and floating plants as they are ambush predators and appreciate low to medium light and the ability to find shade.

They can survive in a wide range of water conditions (and an extremely wide range of temperatures), but strong and efficient filtration is required to ensure clean water due to the heavy bio-load impact that this species has on the aquarium; high-end (possibly custom), external biological and mechanical filtration (e.g., a sump-style wet/dry filter) will be needed and quality chemical filtration is also recommended.

Northern Snakeheads will also need a strong, tight-fitting lid on their aquarium as they will sometimes jump or get carried away while hunting live fish. Species specific aquariums are recommended as they are highly predatory, aggressive, and not many aquarium fish can tolerate their cooler temperature preferences.

Feeding & Nutrition

How to properly feed Northern Snakehead and provide a healthy diet.

Northern Snakeheads are ferocious, predatory carnivores and mainly eat massive amounts of live fish, but also eat frogs, insects and crayfish in the wild. In the aquarium they should be fed a constant supply of live fish, but they will also accept live earth worms, frogs, crickets, and crayfish.

For balanced nutrition, the best idea would be to have a separate tank of minnows and other bait fish and feed them high quality, vitamin-enriched flake foods to get them "gut-loaded" before they are fed to the Snakeheads. Feed twice daily.

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