December 30, 2022

The Chinese Snakehead - 𝘊𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘢 𝘢𝘴𝘪𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘢

The Chinese Snakehead, Channa asiatica (wild type), in an aquarium

We all have a favourite fish and this is undoubtedly one of mine.

The Chinese Snakehead - Channa asiatica

For me personally, these have to be one of the best snakeheads available. They are good looking, not too big, nor too small, will breed relatively easily and have great character!

C. asiatica can attain a size of around 14" (35cm) and are one of the snakehead species that lack pelvic fins. A keen eye will come to realize that these fish can be sexed - Males may have more spangles to the body and fins, along with spotting on top of the head. Males generally appear longer and slimmer than the females. Females in contrast tend to lack the amount of spangles, spots on the head and they are generally shorter and plumper bodied. The white of the belly appears more noticeable when viewed sideways on too.

Whilst the fish are juvenile, the sexing isn't clear and a group of 6 individuals would be a sensible purchase if trying to establish a pair. The group may cohabitate fine until a pair forms, at the point of a pair forming, the remaining fish will have to be removed.

Cooler temperatures

Chinese snakeheads aren't tropical fish. They require seasonal changes for optimum health and for breeding purposes. Cool winters and warm summers suit them fine, and this can be simulated in many cases by simply removing the heater from the aquarium (Ideal for energy-saving). In regard to winter temperatures, don't worry about the aquarium becoming too cold within the home aquarium - C. asiatica will be fine at around 10c (although 12c-14c should suffice as a wintering period). As summer rolls in, aquarium temperatures will naturally climb into the 20s, again, this will be fine.

As the temperatures climb and daylight hours begin to increase in spring, this is when these snakeheads will begin to look for a mate and breed. It will be at this point when the female will test whether the male is fit for breeding purposes. You can expect to see some fighting, with nipped fins being part of the pairing process - This is to be expected, although it can be nerve racking, especially when seeing it for the first time. All being well, a bond should establish.


Channa asiatica 'Red Stripe' variant.
Channa asiatica, the striking 'Red Stripe' variant


The bonded pair may be observed doing a few practice wraps until the 'Real McCoy' happens, where the pair will embrace, resulting in eggs being fertilized and floating to the surface of the water. In my experience, it is in the morning when I discover eggs, with the smallest spawn being around 60, and the largest spawn being well into the hundreds. Water needs to be still.

Eggs will begin to hatch within a day or 2, although in one of my cooler tanks (bottom row) it was around a week before the eggs began to hatch. The fry initially resemble little black tadpoles, but soon become yellow predators!

Some species of snakehead will feed their young with trophic eggs, but C. asiatica do not follow this fry-feeding strategy. Therefore, it is important for fry survival and development that we begin to feed the fry as soon as they become free-swimming.


Channa asiatica, juvenile snakeheads.
Juvenile C. asiatica


First foods can be powdered flake, or a good quality cichlid pellet that has been ground down with a pepper mill. As the fry grow, the food sizes can be increased accordingly. Fry are predatory and will predate on each other - they will do a good job at preying on weak and deformed siblings. Keeping the fry well fed seems to reduce fry loss from predation, but harvesting the predatory culprits into their own aquarium may be the safest bet when wanting to maximize fry survival.

After breeding, bonded pairs may fall out, bonded pairs may also fall out with the onset of winter too. In any case, splitting them up is the best bet, with the possibility of re-establishing the bond again in spring for the breeding cycle to play out all over again.

Adults seem to thrive on a diet of good quality Cichlid pellets along with the occasional treat of earthworms. Crickets can be offered to snakeheads too, with the added benefit that crickets can be gut loaded prior to use. It's quite a charming sight to see snakeheads demanding a feed whilst being obviously excited at the front the their aquarium, whooshing their heads and tails side to side.

In stock are some homebred and raised youngsters that are around 5 months old. These are 4"(10cm) give or take, and are priced at £14.95 each or 3 for £40.00 (Dec 2022).

Snakeheads are a misunderstood group of fish and unfortunately, reliable information can be tricky to find. I'd encourage you to join a good group with like-minded and experienced hobbyists, such as Channa Headquarters (HQ) on Facebook, which can be found here:

Curious? Then why not join the fascinating, yet addictive world of Channa?!

Many thanks for reading my take on a cracking species
- Alan Hopkinson


For further information, please contact the Tropical section.