The giant snakehead, Channa micropeltes, is a nasty, nasty fish. It's a native of lakes, rivers and other bodies of freshwater in South and Southeast Asia, from India to Vietnam. It grows to more than 6 feet in length and has a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth. A high-level predator with a voracious appetite for destruction, the giant snakehead has a reputation for killing far more fish than it can consume. That's one reason why U.S. environmental officials were horrified to discover a few years back that some aquarium hobbyists had released giant snakeheads into lakes in Maryland and Wisconsin. The fearsome invaders conceivably could ravage domestic fish species in an orgy of slaughter. For humans, the giant snakehead has two redeeming qualities: It's a challenging combatant for fly fishermen, and if you barbecue it right, it really does taste like chicken.
An Aquatic Killing Machine with Parenting Skills
To seize its prey, the giant snakehead will bend itself into an S-shape and then snap its head forward to attack. It generally feeds on other fish, frogs and birds, but the stone killer will take on anything that gets too close, including people. Reportedly, giant snakeheads have seriously injured and even killed fishermen and swimmers who got too close to their young. The scientific literature on the species even includes a mention of an unfortunate man who was nearly castrated by an angry snakehead.
The giant snakehead is a creepy-looking monster, with an eel-like body and a head that's mostly mouth. When it's young, it has red, orange and black lateral stripes. Over time, the colors fade, and the snakehead develops a bluish-black and white pattern of stripes. It breeds at one or two years of age, and spawns in an offshore nest of vegetation. The eggs hatch in two to three days.
For its frenzied ferocity, the giant snakehead is a surprisingly devoted parent. Both the male and female guard the nest, and after hatching, young snakeheads follow mama around. Bother the family, and both parents will fight in its defense. As soon as a snakehead can swim on its own, it begins hiding in aquatic vegetation, where it launches sneak attacks on unsuspecting prey. Its lifespan in the wild generally is at least eight years.
Mean, But a Tasty Catch
The giant snakehead is an important food fish in Asia. Because it's an air breather, it can stay alive after being caught for days on end, in or out of water. That keeps it fresh in outdoor markets and places where people don't have refrigerators. In Thailand, you can buy a tasty snack of barbecued snakehead from street vendors.
The ugly, mean-spirited monster also happens to be a popular sport fish. Once hooked, it'll fight a fisherman fiercely to the end. Even when you get one in the boat, the giant snakehead will try to use its pectoral fins to climb out.
Why You Should Throw It Back
Anything that fights as hard to get away as a giant snakehead does deserves some respect, doesn't it?