Forty to fifty species of these large, predatory fish inhabit the fresh waters of Asia and central Africa. They are aptly named, as the elongated body and the shape of the head do evoke images of a snake. Snakeheads possess auxiliary respiratory organs that allow them to breathe air and to survive in waters that few other fish can tolerate. Important food fish wherever they occur, snakeheads are routinely shipped from Asia to food markets in the United States wrapped in wet burlap. They almost always arrive feisty and ready to snap at their captors!
Although some species can reach lengths in excess of 3 feet (1 meter), most commonly imported species, such as the Asian snakehead,
Do not be misled by the snakehead's ability to survive in adverse conditions. Water quality should be monitored carefully, especially given the copious amounts of waste these large fish produce.
Snakeheads make interesting pets for those able to provide them with the space they need. Captive reproduction is not common. Males of some species evacuate nests while others leave the eggs to fend for themselves.
Snakeheads must be housed in large, well-covered aquariums. They generally uproot most plants, so their homes are best decorated with rocks and driftwood. Be sure to check the legality of keeping these fish before deciding to purchase one. Snakeheads have been much in the news in the United States lately, after free living populations were found in Virginia and, of all places, New York City (although it is unlikely that they would survive the winter there). Given their aggressive ways, these fish could cause environmental havoc if established outside their natural range, and for this reason their importation is banned in many areas.