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Channa diplogramma (DAY, 1865)

Malabar Snakehead

SynonymsTop ↑

Ophiocephalus diplogramma Day, 1865


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

diplogramma: from the Greek διπλός (diplós), meaning ‘twofold, double’, and γραμμή (grammé), meaning ‘line’, in reference to this species’ juvenile colour pattern.


Order: Perciformes Family: Channidae


Endemic to southern parts of the Western Ghats mountains in southern India with records existing from the Meenachil, Manimala, Pampa, Achenkovil and Kallada rivers in Kerala state, as well as the Chittar and Tambraparni drainages in Tamil Nadu state

Type locality is ‘Cochin, Malabar coast, India’, corresponding to modern-day Kochi in Kerala.

Maximum Standard Length

At least 480 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

Temperature22 – 32 °C

pH6.0 – 8.0

Hardness36 – 357 ppm


An obligate predator which probably feeds 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.

NotesTop ↑

This species was considered synonymous with the Indochinese congener C. micropeltes for over a century before being revalidated in 2011.

It can be told apart from all other members of the genus by possessing 103-105 lateral line scales (vs. 36-91) and from C. micropeltes by a combination of characters as follows: greater pre-anal length (mean 55.66 mm vs. 50.64 mm in C. micropeltes); lesser body depth (mean 15.60 mm vs. 20.05); fewer cheek scales (16-20 vs. 23-25); fewer total vertebrae (53-54 vs. 57); more caudal-fin rays (15-17 vs. 14).

Like in C. micropeltes colour pattern varies depending on the age of the fish.

Juveniles possess two longitudinal black stripes on the head and body with the area between and above the upper stripe orange in colour.

As the fish grow the the orange fades to yellow, later light brown and light black, then the black lines fade and irregular black spots appear on the body which itself becomes greyish.

In subadults the black spots become larger and more diffuse, eventually coalescing, and four to six white blotches appear on the upper portion of each flank .

In large adults the latter are more distinct, the abdomen is white, the caudal-fin, dorsal surface and head are purple-black, and the dorsal and anal fins have a thin greyish border.

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.

All Channa spp. possess 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. Day, F., 1865 - Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1865 (pt 1): 2-40
    On the fishes of Cochin, on the Malabar coast of India. Part I. Acanthopterygii.
  2. Benziger, A., S. Philip, R. Raghavan, P. H. Anvar Ali, M. Sukumaran, J. C. Tharian, N. Dahanukar, F. Baby, R. Peter, K. Rema Devi, K. V. Radhakrishnan, M. A. Aniffa, R. Britz, and A. Antunes, 2011 - PLoS ONE 6(6): e21272
    Unraveling a 146 Years Old Taxonomic Puzzle: Validation of Malabar Snakehead, Species-Status and Its Relevance for Channid Systematics and Evolution.
  3. Brede, N. and P. Antler, 2009 - Natur und Tier Verlag, Münster: 62 pp.
    Schlangenkopffische—Die Gattungen Channa und Parachanna.
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