Channa Stewartii – The Assamese Snakehead

channa stewartii

Last updated on July 25th, 2022 at 08:05 am

Channa Stewartii, commonly known as the Assamese Snakehead, are freshwater fish and are popular in most parts of India. They are seen in the lower reaches of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. These fish were named after Joseph Dalton Hooker who was an English botanist and explorer who studied the species extensively during his time in India.

Channa stewartii is a small catfish, native to large river basins and lakes in Indian central, eastern, and northern parts. The fish can be found in lowland rivers and streams that flow into seasonal floodplains, large lakes or reservoirs that are predominantly freshwater, as well as brackish man-made ponds.

During dry seasons these fish move towards permanent water bodies in search of suitable habitats for breeding. There have been numerous records from natural lakes such as Kolleru Lake (Andhra Pradesh), Manas Lake (Assam), and Sissano Tal & Nainital lake (Uttarakhand).

The fish has also been introduced to artificially created bodies of water such as the Bhakra dam on river Satluj (Punjab) and Jog Canal (Gujarat). All above sites except for Bhakra Dam have yielded a single specimen during their early surveys suggesting no recent existence in them.

Channa stewartii, also called the golden snakehead, is one of the biggest fish in the Indian Subcontinent, with some growing as large as two feet long and over 10 pounds. The Assamese Snakehead can be found in the wetlands of northern India near rivers and lakes, where it feeds on smaller fish, frogs, and insects.

Origin and description

channa stewartii

Channa stewartii is a species of snakehead fish endemic to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. It has been introduced in Myanmar, Thailand, and other parts of Southeast Asia. This species grows to about 35 cm in length and is considered a delicacy in those countries where it is found.

It feeds on other fish and rarely is an effective predator upon its natural prey due to its lack of pectoral fins. It prefers fast-flowing streams with sandy bottoms and overhanging vegetation or submerged tree roots. Most often captured from rivers flowing through hilly country with moderate current, it sometimes enters lakes and ponds around villages for food or shelter but does not normally inhabit such areas for prolonged periods.

The golden snakehead is a new species of snakehead fish, it is locally known as chup chila and can be found in areas that have less vegetation or still water.

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Channa Stewaritii will eat smaller fish if it comes across one whilst hunting for food. It has very sharp teeth which help it bite into prey harder than other types of catfish. It grows up to 23 cm long and 11 cm wide, with females being bigger than males.

After mating, female Channa Stewaritii lays eggs in groups of around twenty. When fully developed, eggs hatch after roughly two days and are carried by adult catfish until they mature and grow larger.

Location of Channa stewartii in India

In India, Channa stewartii is found in all four major river systems of North East India, the Brahmaputra, Mahanadi, and Barak river systems. The fish is commonly called Assamese snakehead.

This species was initially identified by Dr Hora (1952) from a specimen collected from Dibrugarh district of lower Assam where it has been recorded for decades. After an extensive search survey carried out during 1982 to 89 by P. Bhattacharya, it was rediscovered from its type locality in Dibrugarh.

During 1989 to 2001, surveys were conducted at various other places of Assam like Majuli Island, Borail, Tezpur, Borsola Nala, etc. which revealed its presence at most of these localities. It is not just confined to these rivers but also occurs in some small rivers within Guwahati city apart from a few more tributaries of greater rivers around Guwahati.

Species profile

channa stewartii

Channa stewartii is commonly known as golden snakehead and is a species of fish in the family Channidae. It is endemic to northeast India and Bangladesh. This fish can breathe air. The specific name honors Captain James Stewart (1821-1870), an assistant surgeon in charge of Kotda Malguzar Hospital, Sylhet, who collected type.

These are predatory fishes that eat aquatic invertebrates and other fishes. They are nocturnal and feed on insects, larvae, crustaceans, small fishes, and even small amphibians during their breeding season. They were introduced from Southeast Asia into Louisiana in 1963 for mosquito control purposes but quickly became invasive by spreading into waterways along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida.

Channa Stewartii uses its powerful jaws to crush prey while they burrow through silty riverbeds looking for food at night.

Common name



Channa stewartii, or Assamese snakehead as it is commonly called due to its native area, is an aggressive and predatory species of fish that boasts an incredibly fast rate of reproduction, with a tolerance for warm climates and an average adult lifespan of 10 years.

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However, its original range remains unknown since these fish are so prolific. Because of their invasive nature, Channa stewartii should not be released into any bodies of water because they will overpopulate any available habitat and destroy other aquatic life in their wake. In fact, many fishermen have reported catching channa stewartii up to 2 meters (6 feet) long!

Due to how easily they breed and their ability to survive even when slightly injured, there is little hope for getting rid of them. Luckily, under normal circumstances, channa stewartii do not consume humans… yet!

Channa stewartii size and weight

These fish are relatively small. A full-grown snakehead can measure as much as 25 to 40 centimeters (10 to 16 inches) in length and weigh more than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). They’re typically more than half a meter long when they are only one year old. These fish also have very broad tails, which makes them look slightly flattened side-on.

Channa stewartii tank size

The recommended tank size is 60 to 100 cm

Channa stewartii tank mates

Channa stewartii is a very aggressive fish, making it unsuitable for most community tanks. While young specimens may fare well with other non-aggressive species, once fully grown they tend to attack and eat their tank mates.

It is best to keep Channa stewartii alone or in small groups in a very large tank without any other fish. This will prevent them from killing off all of their tank mates when they become more aggressive as adults.

Channa stewartii breeding

channa stewartii

Channa stewartii are egg-layers. They reproduce in brackish and freshwater. Females lay eggs that have ribbons at one end. Eggs develop into larvae that have fully developed external gills, resemble a leech or tadpole, and can swim freely until they metamorphose into juveniles.

The newly hatched juvenile snakeheads (1 to 2 cm long) appear to be miniature versions of their parents.

Both parents guard their eggs, which hatch after around four days. At first, only males do so; later on, both sexes guard their offspring. Newly hatched young have no teeth; their eyes have yet to open and their fins are undeveloped.

They feed on zooplankton for up to three weeks before gradually switching over to adult foods such as bloodworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp. Baby snakeheads grow quickly, making it important to regularly remove excess food particles that could foul their water or cause dangerous levels of ammonia buildup.

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In aquaria, they can reach up to 10 centimeters (4 inches) in length by age 3 months. It takes those just under two years to reach sexual maturity – twice as long as some other types of fish.

The main problem encountered when keeping channa stewartii is aggression toward others in the tank – even its own species!

Are Channa stewartii aggressive or peaceful?

Like all snakeheads, Channa stewartii has a reputation for aggressiveness, but they are actually peaceful and docile fish. While a nuisance in farms and rice paddies (like most snakeheads), Channa stewartii rarely attack other animals or humans. This makes them an ideal pet for experienced fish keepers. However, they are somewhat territorial and need their own tank! With proper care, you’ll enjoy your serpentine friend for years to come!

Channa stewartii care

channa stewartii

Getting a new fish tank can be exciting, but it also entails taking care of a living thing. If you have any type of fish in your tank, it’s very important to monitor its water quality and observe its behavior to catch any symptoms of stress early on.

With these precautions in place, your aquarium can remain a wonderful addition to your home for years to come. Just remember that fish need consistency and a little bit of attention if they are going to thrive in their new environment.

Channa stewartii diet

Channa stewartii is an omnivorous and opportunistic predator, which means that it will eat anything that it can fit into its mouth, including other fish. Their diet mainly consists of small insects, smaller fish, and worms. The golden snakeheads are considered aggressive carnivores; however, they can thrive on a vegetarian diet if provided with food in abundance.

They can also be fed with live food (bloodworms), frozen food, or dry flakes.

Water parameters

Ideal water parameters are pH of 6.5 to 7.5, GH 4-10, KH 0-2, DH 2-14, and temperature 19 to 22 degrees Celcius. Channa stewartii, Assamese Snakehead, is a very lively, active, and attractive fish in an aquarium that deserves to be put inside tanks of at least 200 litres capacity with powerful filtration facilities, non-chlorinated or peat water, and richly planted tank environments together with other fast swimming fishes such as Barbs and Danios for example.

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It can grow up to 18 cm long making it one of the largest minnow-like fish in India and it lives up to 12 years so you can keep it for a long time once acclimatized into your aquarium environment. It’s highly recommended to acquire two specimens at the minimum if not more (preferably females) to ensure compatibility between each other along with space within your tank being taken into consideration.

Channa stewartii lifespan

The fish can live for up to 20 years (in captivity). Probably less in nature.

Pests and diseases

Channa stewartii is susceptible to air-breathing cestodes (monogeneans), cyprinid herpesvirus-3, ichthyophthirius, and gill disease (the latter two caused by Flavobacterium columnare). It is also an important host for Spizella spp. trematodes; a major cause of mortality in young palla fish. It is also susceptible to protozoan infections such as costia, flagellates, and trichodina.

Threats to this species in the wild

In its native range, Channa stewartii is threatened by overfishing. Fish farmers also catch and kill snakeheads that get into their ponds, creating a significant demand for wild-caught snakeheads to meet their needs.

In addition, non-native fish are often intentionally introduced into new areas with fish farming as a livelihood source for local people; although some species can thrive in these circumstances, others die out due to competition or predation from existing species. Non-native predators such as tilapia (Tilapia sp.) may also negatively impact populations of Channa stewartii and other small native fishes.

Do they make good pets?

Yes, they do make good pets with experienced fish keepers. They are actually very social and can be kept with other fish of a similar size and temperament. Since they grow up to be quite large in adulthood, you want to make sure that your aquarium is at least 100 gallons or larger in order to give it plenty of room to swim around. Also, you will need an ample amount of places for these fish to hide as well.