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Channa micropeltes (CUVIER, 1831)

Giant Snakehead

SynonymsTop ↑

Ophicephalus micropeltes Cuvier, 1831; Ophicephalus serpentinus Cuvier, 1831; Ophicephalus bivittatus Bleeker, 1845; Ophicephalus stevensii Bleeker, 1854; Ophiocephalus studeri Volz, 1903; Channa diplogramma (non Day, 1865)


Channa: from the Latin channe, used to refer to an unspecified species of sea perch.

micropeltes: from the Ancient Greek μικρός (mikros), meaning ‘small’, and


Order: Perciformes Family: Channidae


This species is widespread in South East Asia with its range extending southwest from the Mekong River drainage in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia (including the Tonlé Sap system in Cambodia and Mekong delta in Vietnam), through Thailand, Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak state, Borneo), Singapore, and western Indonesia (Sumatra, Kalimantan (Borneo), and Java).

It also occurs in a number of smaller archipelagos including Bangka and Belitung (Billiton).


Something of a habitat generalist although tends to display a preference for  larger lowland river channels, inland lakes, canals, and swamps, including man-made environments.

Maximum Standard Length

1000 – 1300 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Suitable only for public installations or the very largest private aquaria.


Relatively unfussy although some  surface cover in the form of floating or overhanging vegetation or branches is appreciated.

Unlike most Channa spp. it’s pelagic and requires plenty of room to swim.

It’s essential to use a tightly-fitting hood since Channa spp. are notorious for their ability to escape, and a gap should be left between this and the water surface as they require access to a layer of humid air.

Water Conditions

Temperature16 – 30 °C

pH6.0 – 8.0

Hardness36 – 357 ppm


An obligate predator feeding on smaller fishes, amphibians and terrestrial insects in nature but in most cases adapts well to dead alternatives in captivity.

Some specimens even accept dried foods though these should never form the staple diet.

Young fish can be offered chironomid larvae (bloodworm), small earthworms, chopped prawn and suchlike while adults will accept strips of fish flesh, whole prawns/shrimp, mussels, etc.

This species should not be fed mammalian or avian meat such as beef heart or chicken since some of the lipids contained in these cannot be properly metabolised by the fish and may cause excess fat deposits and even organ degeneration.

Similarly there is no benefit in the use of ‘feeder’ fish such as livebearers or small goldfish which carry with them the risk of parasite or disease introduction and at any rate tend not have a high nutritional value unless properly conditioned beforehand.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Best-maintained in a species-specific aquarium.

Juveniles and subadults are relatively peaceful with one another but become aggressive when they reach sexual maturity.


Has been achieved but details are scarce. Attempting it is not recommended. Little is known of their breeding behaviour but eggs are apparently laid in a sunken nest of vegetation near the shore, and the young are fiercely guarded by the parents. Fully grown adults can cause severe injury to humans who inadvertently step near the nest. Juveniles are striped brown, black and red and travel in large shoals.

NotesTop ↑

This species is also known as ‘Indonesian’, ‘red’, `’redline’ or ” snakehead.

Members of the family Channidae are commonly referred to as ‘snakeheads’ due to possession of large scales on the head of most species which are reminiscent of the epidermal scales (cephalic plates) on the heads of snakes.

There currently exist over 30 valid species but diversity within the group is likely to prove significantly greater.

Species from northeastern India were divided into the C. marulius and C. gachua groups by Vishwanath and Geetakumari (2009).

C. marulius is included in the former assemblage which the authors characterise by possessing the following combination of characters: a prominent V-shaped sharp isthmus; cephalic sensory pores arranged in groups; absence of scales on the lower jaw; a sharp, prominent, spinelike hypurapophysis; more branchial than epibranchial toothplates; an elongate urostyle.

All Channa spp. posses-s supplementary breathing apparatus in the form of paired suprabranchial chambers located behind and above the gills, although these are not labyrinthic but lined with respiratory epithelium.

These chambers allow the fish to breathe atmospheric air and survive in hypoxic conditions or even out of the water for a considerable period of time, and in aquaria they are often seen rising to the surface to take gulps of air.


  1. Brede, N. and P. Antler, 2009 -
    Schlangenkopffische—Die Gattungen Channa und Parachanna.
  2. Kottelat, M. -
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