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Channa maculata (LACEPÈDE, 1801)

Blotched Snakehead

SynonymsTop ↑

Bostrychus maculatus Lacepède, 1801; Ophicephalus guntheri Sauvage & Dabry de Thiersant, 1874; Ophicephalus tadianus Jordan & Evermann, 1902; Ophiocephalus marmoratus Brind, 1914; Channa striata (non Bloch, 1793)


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

maculata: from the Latin maculatus, meaning ‘stained, spotted’, in reference to this species’ colour pattern.


Order: Perciformes Family: Channidae


This species is widely-distributed in Pacific coastal drainages of southeastern China (e.g. the Yangtze, Minjiang, Hangjiang River, and Pearl (Nanjiujiang) rivers), including Hainan island and Hong Kong, and is also native to Vietnam (northern provinces to Quang Binh province).

No type locality was provided in the original description although the specimens were most likely collected in the vicinity of Guangzhou, Guangdong province, People’s Republic of China.

C. maculata has been introduced to, and become established in, a number of countries and territories including Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Madagascar, and Oahu island in Hawaii.

It is an important food fish across much of its native and non-native ranges.


Tends to inhabit still or slow-running rivers and backwaters with silty substrates and dense aquatic vegetation.

Maximum Standard Length

200 – 300 mm.


An obligate predator which feeds on invertebrates, amphibians, and smaller fishes 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, live river shrimp, larger earthworms, etc.

Small insects such as crickets or Drosophila fruit flies are also suitable to use although it’s best to fill the stomachs of these by feeding them fish flakes or some kind of vegetable matter before offering them to the fish.

Adults do not require food on a daily basis, even during periods of warm temperatures, and should not be offered fatty foods more than once a week.

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.


This species is a biparental free spawner.

At the peak of courtship the male and female embrace in a similar fashion to anabantoids.

No bubble nest is built and several thousand eggs simply float at the surface with both male and female remaining to defend the eggs and fry.

It is able to hybridise with the congener C. argus and such crosses appear to be quite common in aquaculture.

NotesTop ↑

This species is frequently confused with C. argus but can be distinguished by the following characters: dorsal-fin rays 38-45 (vs. 47-50 in C. argus); anal fin rays 26-29 (vs. 31-36); lateral line scales 50-56 (vs. 60-66); 2-3 rounded blotches on caudal peduncle (vs. no blotches on caudal peduncle).

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. Lacepède, B. G. E., 1801 - i-lxvi + 1-558, Pls. 1-34
    Histoire naturelle des poissons. v. 3
  2. Brede, N. and P. Antler, 2009 - Natur und Tier Verlag, Münster: 62 pp.
    Schlangenkopffische—Die Gattungen Channa und Parachanna.
  3. Courtenay, W. R., Jr., J. D. Williams, R. Britz, M. N. Yamamoto, and P.V. Loiselle, 2004 - Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 77: 1-13
    Identity of introduced snakeheads (Pisces, Channidae) in Hawai'i and Madagascar, with comments on ecological concerns.
  4. Endruweit, M. (ed), 2010 - World Wide Web electronic publication, www.aquariophil.org: Accessed on 14.01.01
  5. Ho, H.-C. and K.-T. Shao, 2011 - Zootaxa 2957: 1-74
    Annotated checklist and type catalog of fish genera and species described from Taiwan.
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