California Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS)
University of California
California Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS)

Invasive Fish Species

Snakehead fishes

Scientific Name

Channidae family - Visit ITIS for full scientific classification. 


  • Freshwater fish with a long, thin body.
  • The eyes are located near the top of the head.
  • The head is small, somewhat flattened, and covered in large scales like a snake.
  • They have long fins that run along the top and bottom of their body.
  • Generally brown with dark blotches.
  • They have a simple lung , and can breath air and survive for hours out of the water.
  • Possible for individuals to reach 4 feet in length and weigh over 40 pounds. 
  • Habitat preferences vary between the different species.
  • They have little or no tolerance for seawater.
  • Found in rivers, streams, ponds, swamps, ditches, canals, reservoirs, rice paddies, and they generally prefer areas with a lot of vegetation.
Invasion Pathways and Distribution
  • Commonly introduced as a food resource for human consumption.
  • They are also released from hobbyists, escape from fish farms, and some can spread to new water bodies by traveling over land.
  • None of the species are currently found in California, but there was one report of a Northern Snakehead in California in 1997.
  • Native to parts of Africa and Asia.
  • See USGS for current U.S. distributions. 
Life History
  • Spawning seasons vary between species, but are usually during the summer months.
  • Some spawn multiple times per year.
  • Most create nests in the water column surrounded by aquatic vegetation.
  • In most species the young are vigorously guarded by adults. 
  • Aggressive top predators that feed on a wide variety of animals including: fish, frogs, crabs, birds, small mammals, etc.
  • They prey upon, and outcompete natives for resources.
  • Carry parasites that can be transported to native populations. 
References and Useful Links

For references by category and links to other useful AIS sites see our LEARN MORE page.

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