Northern Snakeheads Caught in Missouri

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northern snakehead fish
Northern Snakehead
Credit: Missouri Department of Conservation

Fisheries biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) confirm a fourth northern snakehead has been recorded in the state. The invasive fish was caught by an angler May 25 below Wappapello Lake Spillway in Wayne County.

The angler left the snakehead out of water for several hours, expecting it to die. Eventually the fish was transported to the local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) office.

MDC Wayne County Conservation Agent Jacob Plunkett recovered the bag nearly four hours after the fish was left in the bag. “When I picked up the fish, it was still very much alive,” said Plunkett.

Unlike most fish, the northern snakehead can breathe air, which allows survival in poorly oxygenated water or out of water for several days if their skin stays moist. They can also slither across land to return to water.

The northern snakehead fish (Channa argus) is a long bodied, predatory fish that is not native to the U.S. This fish’s head resembles a snake, thus its name.

Northern snakeheads can grow up to 3 feet long with a python-like coloration and pattern of markings.

Snakeheads are an invasive species native to Asia. They’re aggressive predators, preying on native species, and competing for resources.

MDC advises anglers to follow several guidelines if they encounter a northern snakehead:

  • Make sure it’s a snakehead; northern snakeheads can be confused with the native bowfin
  • Do not release the fish or throw it on the bank
  • Northern snakehead can live for a considerable amount of time out of the water
  • Kill the fish by severing the head, gutting it, or placing it in a sealed plastic bag
  • Photograph the fish so the species can be positively identified
  • Note the location of the catch
  • Report any catches and sightings of the fish to MDC’s Southeast Regional Office at 573-290-5730
  • it is illegal to import, export, sell, purchase, or possess a live northern snakehead in Missouri

The first northern snakehead recorded in Missouri was caught in a borrow ditch within the St. Francis River levees in Dunklin County in 2019.

Two northern snakeheads were documented in 2023. One was captured by an angler in May at Duck Creek Conservation Area. Another was captured a few miles away in Mingo National Wildlife Refuge.

Northern snakeheads are established in Arkansas. Numerous catches have been recorded around White River National Refuge, Merrisach Lake, Big Piney Creek, and the Mississippi River.

MDC will continue to monitor the spread of northern snakeheads in the state. Learn more about the northern snakehead fish and its negative impact on aquatic habitats at https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/snakeheads.

source: Missouri Department of Conservation

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Northern Snakehead

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