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Talk about Weird: This Invasive Fish Can Walk on Land and Breathe Air!

By Faun Gray


Originally from Asia, the snakehead has recently started breeding in U.S. waterways. This strange fish can breathe air, walk on land, and through mud. It has escaped coolers and boats. It is illegal to keep a live snakehead. So, if you catch one, you must kill it right away. But don’t just leave it on the ground or put it in a cooler — snakeheads can survive these conditions and might get back into the water. It’s best to gut the fish, cut off its head, or kill it another way. If you’re squeamish, you can seal the fish in a plastic bag or place it in a freezer (not just a cooler with ice). Other anglers might also help you kill the fish.

In 2002, these strange creatures were discovered in Maryland and North Carolina. They had likely been imported to fish markets, then unlawfully released. They have since been found along the East Coast, California, Missouri, and in the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.

Snakehead fish prefer to live in shallow ponds, swamps and slow-moving streams that have a lot of plants and muddy surfaces. They can also be found in canals, reservoirs, lakes and rivers. While the optimal temperature range for northern snakeheads is 41-60 degrees Fahrenheit (5-16 degrees Celsius), they can tolerate temperatures as low as 32 F (0 C) and greater than 86 F (30 C). Their ability to adjust to various depths, temperatures, and oxygen levels allows them to survive in many different types of aquatic environments.


Snakeheads can live 10 - 15 years, and reach a length of 33 inches and a weight of 19 pounds.


Northern snakeheads are aggressive, carnivorous fish with dagger-like teeth (Yikes, sounds like pirana). Freshly hatched fry feed on zooplankton, and later, small insects and crustaceans. Juveniles eat small fish, while adults can eat fish that are up to 33% of their body length, such as loach, bream and carp. Adults will also eat dragonfly larvae, beetles and frogs.


Finally, it’s important to report any suspected snakeheads to your local State Department of Conservation.


Photo: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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