All The Fish

The Snakehead Dilemma

Considering an Often-Maligned Species

a snakehead from above
A snakehead from above. 📷 Hitoshi Watanabe

Snakeheads: The Perfect Invasive Species?

face of a fish that looks like a boa or python
Whether it reminds you of a boa or python, or a watermelon or pickle, this is the business end of a Northern Snakehead. 📷 iNaturalist/pmk00001
a long fish with a long dorsal fin and dot on its tail in the weeds
Not a snakehead! Bowfin are native to North America and the fish most commonly mistaken for snakeheads. Note the short anal fin on the bottom closest to the tail and dot on the tail. 📷 USFWS/Ryan Hagerty
In contrast, note the much longer anal fin and no dot on the tail of this snakehead. 📷 USFWS/Ryan Hagerty
a snakehead adult very close to a school of tiny fish
A snakehead guards its young. 📷 iNaturalist/drennack

“You’re not gonna find any other fish, if any self-respecting fish, in 95-degree water in the middle of August that’s a foot deep. But you’ll find snakeheads there.” — John Odenkirk, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources

A snakehead sits in shallow stagnant water. 📷 Gray Catanzaro

The Public Reacts

a fish with a pointy nose and little teeth
Also not a snakehead! Snakeheads in tidal areas are sometimes confused with another ambush predator, the Inshore Lizardfish (pictured here). 📷 Melanie Dallavalle
a person holding a snakehead with 2 hands
A snakehead in hand. 📷 USFWS/Ryan Hagerty

“It went from being sort of a cult classic to the hottest thing in fishing, because a true snakehead aficionado hook and line person is only going to be able to really get into good snakehead fishing in a kayak.”

Fish Biologist John Odenkirk holds a snakehead.

Snakeheads: it’s complicated

“We don’t know what those impacts are going to be. They’re going to be different in every single watershed they show up in.” — Josh Newhard, Maryland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

a wetland with geese flying overhead
Fisheries biologists have noticed declines in fish catches in the waters around Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (Chesapeake Bay watershed) since snakeheads showed up, indicating possible connections/negative impacts. 📷 USFWS/Danielle Brigida

A Tale of Caution

“You can’t paint all invasives with one brush. We have to look at each one individually.” — John Odenkirk

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We’re dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.