Small Snakehead (Channa asiatica)

Updated: Aug 30, 2019

A native and uncommon species in lowland and occasionally upland habitats.

Sub-adult specimen, with a rare orange-dominant colouration

The small snakehead is one of two native snakehead species in Hong Kong. It is a primary freshwater species, and like other species in its genus, it has an elongated body with long dorsal and anal fins. It prefers stagnant bodies of water, as it physiology does not favour constantly swimming against a current, but sudden bursts of power. It is an aggressive species, growing up to 35cm, often the apex predator in small ponds or pools.

Specimens display various differences in colouration at different stages of life, as seen between the sub-adult and adult specimens. Additionally, Snakeheads tend to change colours due to temperament (e.g. fear, hunger) and substrate (for camouflage). Hence, specimens caught from different areas, even within Hong Kong, still show variations in colouration, from dark brown to orange-red.

Fingerling vs Mature specimen

Identification: Two dark brown blotches above pectoral fin and caudal fin base, 7 - 10 vertical bars that can range from brown to grey in colour (AFCD). The distinguishing factor of this species from other Snakeheads is its tailspot pattern on the caudal fin base.

Spot the Snakehead! Image of their natural habitat, shot in Northern District.

Habitat: Like most Snakeheads, Channa asiatica tends to prefer waterbodies of low to no flow. This includes, ponds, pools in-between lowland and hill streams, and occasionally marshes and deep sections of channelized watercourses. However, they primarily inhabit low-land streams and pools in Hong Kong.


AFCD: Uncommon in the wild. Records from a few streams in North district and on Lantau Island. The fish is also cultivated in some fish farms and are available from fish market.

Personal experience: An uncommon species, but not hard to find in areas it has previously been recorded in. I found many hatchlings between June to September, which could be its breeding season. The hatchlings tend to feed and swim together like a mini shoal, and the parents are never too far away. 

Conservation concern:

Fellowes et al. (2002)- Local Concern

KFBG IUCN Red List Revaluation - Near Threatened

Personal Note - This species is often seen in Hong Kong wetmarkets, as well as occasionally being sold as ornamental fish at Tung Choi Street. However, it is likely those those specimens are farmed or exported, and not extracted from native populations. Local threats include habitat destruction and pollution. 

Useful links:

Seriously fish



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© 2019 by Jeffery Chan