Wild striped snakehead

One issue that keeps popping up when discussing the snakehead scare in America is the fish’s ability to traverse on land into other bodies of water. It does this by steering and pushing with its pectoral fins while propelling its entire body forward with a slithering motion.

From my personal experiences I find that the answer to the question, “can snakeheads travel on land?” is “yes, but only to a certain degree with limited orientation”. This is why:


It needs moisture to survive

I have found that if the ground is moist enough, they can easily keep alive on land for an extensive amount of time just like the claims of shows like River Monsters. However, if the surface that they are travelling on is significantly dry, it would only take them less than an hour to die from the dehydration.


Orientation is not guaranteed

Their orientation is also not 100%. Many times we would land a snakehead of some sort and leave it on the ground for a few seconds while we go and grab things like pliers or cameras. During this time, snakeheads would generally start to crawl away from us but they don’t always find their way back into the water despite us being so close to the water. Most of the time they do find it but there are many occasions where they just wander onto some random spot and stop moving from exhaustion. When they do stop it’s almost like they give up and accept their fate.


Size matters

The smaller ones tend to be the most mobile ones while the bigger ones simply just crawl a short distance before tiring out. I believe that this must have something to do with having to lunk around a heavier body weight. I have noticed that the smaller species of snakeheads like the striped snakehead are more adapt at moving on land than their larger cousins, the giant snakehead.  I would always notice that the bigger snakeheads give up crawling much faster than the smaller ones.


Here’s a video of an average-sized striped snakehead making its way into the water. At first it goes in the wrong direction and we had to steer it back towards the water.


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One Response to Can Snakeheads Travel On Land? [with video]

  1. Alex West says:

    Interesting article. I heard many times from locals that the striped snakehead would at times deliberately move from one watering hole to the other (in search of food or breeding place). Also, I can confirm that in rural areas (with ricefields), you will occasionally find snakeheads on paths, usually after it rains (which confirms your point that they need moisture to survive this trip). Their bigger cousins, the Giant Snakehead, are probably not known to take such a journey upon themselves, at least not willingly. Notably due to their size I guess. It is a known fact that the great white sharks for example, will crush itself to death by their own body weight when put on land.

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