Native to China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea, the northern snakehead (Channa argus), is now found in many parts of the eastern United States and California preying on native fish populations. Their introduction to the United States can be attributed to both release from the aquarium trade and live food fish trade. One specific introduction in the year 2000 to a pond in Crofton, Maryland utilized both these pathways when a local resident purchased a pair of live snakehead to prepare a traditional soup remedy and instead kept them as pets. Unable to keep up with their appetites, the pair of snakeheads was released and propagated like mad!
In the waters of the Mid-Atlantic and the south (warmer relative to its native northern Asia), the northern snakehead can reproduce all year and grow to lengths greater than 1 meter (3 feet). As adults, they prey mostly on fish but are capable of eating amphibians, birds, and small mammals. However, as juveniles, they can be subject to predation by the invasive blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus Lesueur, 1840). Northern snakeheads are obligate air breathers which facilitates their hardiness and ability to survive a lengthy trip from Asia out of water. These traits make this invasive species so dangerous that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has issued a mandate for fishers to kill upon capture.
Their overconsumption of native aquatic species will not only decimate native populations but will likely cause millions of dollars in damages as well. A market already exists that is facilitated by consumption; can snakehead be another gateway to invasivory? Chef Chad Wells is already preparing it for culinary masses!