Invasive Fish Species with Snake Head Found Once Again in Missouri

An invasive species of fish has been found slithering in Missouri once again, with officials warning residents on what to do should they come across the creature

Published Time: 06.06.2024 - 03:31:09 Modified Time: 06.06.2024 - 03:31:09

An invasive species of fish has been found slithering in Missouri once again, with officials warning residents on what to do should they come across the creature.

The fourth sighting of the Channa argus, more commonly known as the northern snakehead fish, was reported on May 25, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

A fisherman caught what he believed to be a normal fish below Wappapello Lake Spillway in Wayne County. However, when he placed his catch on the pavement, it never died — despite being left out of the water for a considerable amount of time.

“The angler recognized they had something different and researched the fish’s characteristics, and realized it was indeed a snakehead,” said MDC Fisheries Biologist Dave Knuth. “The angler left it on the pavement for several hours thinking it would die, and it never did.”

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The head of the fish looks like that of a snake, which is how the predator got its name. Its body is marked “with python-like coloration and pattern,” and it can reach lengths of up to 3 ft, per the MDC.

The animal was taken to the local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office. Agent Jacob Plunkett with the MDC Wayne County Conservation received the bag at 11 p.m., about four hours after the fish had been placed in the bag. 

“When I picked up the fish, it was still very much alive,” Plunkett said. 

Officials with the MDC Wayne County Conservation say the fish has the ability to breathe air, which al -

lows it to survive on land for several days as long as its skin stays moist. It can also survive in water that has low oxygen quality. 

Once the fish is ready to go back to the water, it simply slithers away to return. 

The northern snakehead species was first caught in the area in a borrow ditch in the St. Francis River levees in Dunklin County in 2019, per the MDC. Two more were caught in 2023. 

Snakeheads are native to Russia, China and the Korean Peninsula, CBS News said, citing U.S. Fish and Wildlife. They are known to be "aggressive," and prey on native species, while also "competing for resources," the MCD adds.

If Missouri residents encounter a northern snakehead fish, the MCD urges them to “kill the fish by severing the head, gutting it, or placing it in a sealed plastic bag."

“Do not release the fish or throw it on the bank, as it could migrate back to the water or to a new waterbody. Remember this fish is an airbreather and can live a considerable amount of time out of the water,” the organization says. 

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Officials also ask that individuals make sure it is the northern snakehead fish, as the species can sometimes be mistaken for the native bowfin. 

Additionally, anyone who comes across the fish should photograph it “so the species can be positively identified,” as well as document the location of the sighting. 

Any northern snakehead fish catches and sightings are asked to be reported to MDC’s Southeast Regional Office at 573-290-5730.

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