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The Snakehead Threat

In the summer of 2002, specimens of Northern Snakehead, a predatory fish native to China, turned up in a pond near Crofton, Maryland. Wildlife officials investigated and found a number of young snakeheads in the pond. Concerned that the aggressive fish would migrate to other waterways and interfere with native populations, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources issued a public alert. The story generated national news coverage and led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose a federal ban on imports of this fish. It has focused public attention on the danger of putting exotic species into environments where they don't belong.

Aquatic Monster?

Snakeheads (Family Channidae) are native to Africa and southern Asia. About 28 species have been identified. Equipped with accessory breathing organs, these fish can gulp air and survive in waters with low dissolved oxygen levels. They can also live out of water for several days if they are kept moist. All snakeheads are aggressive predators and may eliminate other fishes in waters they invade. They have even been known to bite humans who got too close to a guarded nest. The Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) is fairly cold tolerant, and could probably survive winters in many parts of the United States. This species also has the ability to cross land by wriggling or "walking" on its pectoral fins. Snakeheads have been imported to North America for the aquarium trade, and are sometimes sold live in Asian-style fish markets.

Snakeheads in Texas

The Northern Snakehead is an invasive fish that closely resembles the Bowfin (Amia calva), a nongame fish that's native to Texas. If you've caught or seen a fish that you think might be a snakehead, here's how to tell them apart. If you're not sure, take photos and send them to aquatic.invasives@tpwd.texas.gov. Don't release the fish!

No snakeheads have been found in Texas waters to date, but they have invaded water bodies in other parts of the United States. Because of the potential for harm to native sportfish and imperiled aquatic animals to result from their release into lakes and streams, all species of snakeheads (Family Channidae) are prohibited in Texas. It is illegal in this state to possess, purchase, import, sell, or transport any living snakehead, release them into public waters, or culture these fishes. Dead snakeheads may be legally imported and sold — but only if they have first been beheaded or gutted. The only permits that can be issued for live snakeheads are for research or zoological purposes (AZA-accredited only).