'Kill it immediately': Chinese snakehead fish that can live on land for four days discovered in US state of Georgia

Harry Cockburn
The northern snakehead is a predatory fish usually found in China, Russia and parts of southeast Asia. It can survive several days out of water due to its unusual respiratory system: Brian Gratwicke/Creative Commons

An invasive species of fish which can survive even when it is out of water has been found in the US state of Georgia for the first time, indicating populations of the fish are expanding in America.

The northern snakehead is a species native to China, Russia and parts of southeast Asia. It was first reported in Europe – in former Czechoslovakia – in the 1950s, and the first snakeheads were seen in the US in 2002.

The fish has since established itself in several areas across 14 states, where it is top-level predator and considered a significant threat to existing populations of fish.

The largest specimen ever caught in the US was in 2018 when a 19.9lb (9kg), 35.15 inch (89.2cm) fish was shot dead with a bow and arrow in Maryland.

The species’ unusual respiratory system allows the snakehead to survive out of water – in some cases for up to four days – and the fish is able to wriggle between bodies of water and survive transportation by humans.

The Georgia Department of Wildlife Resources has said anglers are the “first line of defence” against the species, and called on people who go fishing to make sure they keep their bait away from the water when not fishing, and to dispose of it properly afterwards to prevent inadvertently feeding the snakeheads.

In the event of catching one, the official advice is not to release it, but to “kill it immediately and freeze it”.

Anglers are also encouraged to take pictures of the fish, note which body of water it was caught in and report it to the authorities.

The snakehead earns its name from its distinctive markings which are similar to the patterns seen on species such as the rattlesnake.

The northern snakehead can double its population in less than two years, and females lay up to 100,000 eggs a year, reaching sexual maturity at two or three years old.

The fish tend to prefer habitats with still bodies of water and muddy banks, and they mainly subsist on other species of fish, as well as crustaceans, other invertebrates and amphibians.

According to anglers on YouTube, the snakehead is delicious when cooked.