Channa orientalis

Snakeheads are not monstrous eating machines that will cross highways to kill your dog. It is a shame that during this last summer of 2012, this and other equally ridiculous things were being said about a FISH. You heard it. You saw it on TV. We laughed about it at an MAS meeting. I even had to face an email tirade from a young hobbyist in Northern Wisconsin after listing some of these fish on the Internet auction site: AQUABID. In his mind, to even OWN the fish was an atrocity. Heres some more, as written by WASHINGTON POST reporter, Anita Huslin: “U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton today will propose a ban on the importation of 28 species of the voracious air-breathing, ground-slithering fish known as the snakehead, following the discovery of a thriving school of the creatures in a suburban Maryland pond. Native to the Yangtze River region of China, the fish has appeared in at least seven states and has upset the natural order by eating virtually everything – plant and animal – within its reach.” Ignorance is a dangerous weapon.

A mated pair of Channa orientalis and a couple dozen of their fry can be comfortably housed in a 30-gallon tank. They ARE hearty eaters, but the male HAS to when eat he can. He does not eat at all during his month long mouth-brooding and fry guarding ordeal. As Anabantoids, they will routinely rise to the surface for a gulp of airand the stories of them “flying” are only half-lies, as these fish are incredible jumpers. But this behavior is generally limited to courtship and the territorial squabbles that occur during their adolescence. Ideally and inevitably, there will be only one female in a tank and the one male she chooses as her mate. She will kill those she can’t eject. If you DO leave room for escape, you WILL find snakeheads on the floor. If you catch them soon enough, they will survive for a time unharmed…but not in the same tank.

Half of this description could fit nearly ANY large cichlid!

I came upon what became my current pair of Channa orientalis at Gary’s Pets ‘n’ Things, in Cudahy. They were half-grown at 3″ and peacefully occupying opposite corners of a tank. It surprised me to see just two because although Gary had been getting youngsters regularly from Yohan Fernando, hed been getting them in groups. “Why are there only two in this tank?”, I asked. The response was a description of the activity Id seen in my own tanks that had already cost me two sets of juveniles.It seems there HAD been six or seven fish the day before, but when Gary entered the fish room on THIS day, all but the remaining two were scattered on the floor like cheap cigars at a mafia wedding. This was probably a disappointing vision to him, but it meant something different to me: a probable pairing! Upon inspection, it was clearly obvious that the two remaining fish were the now dominant female and her chosen male. Once the female has chosen her mate and ejected all others, the whole attitude of the tank changes. The fish calm down, seem to interact and actually ENJOY each other. Their sexual difference becomes obvious as they quickly mature to the time of their first spawn. She is the larger, duller colored one. He is the smaller, colorful one. Channa orientalis grow from spawn to spawning in less than a year.

I have seen the entire spawning process with two different sets of adult Channa orientalis. It seems important to mention this because each pair had their own unique personality. One set was pretty flamboyant; flaring and wiggling and swimming circles around each other. I once saw a female in a shimmy-shake exercise that reminded me of a little puppy in a “full-body wag”. My current pair is considerably more discreet. They approach each other and simply agree it is TIME.

Regardless of the approach, the actual spawning is typically Anabantoid. Like the Betta or Gourami, the two fish wrap half-circles around each other and as the s-q-u-e-e-z-e begins, eggs and milt are mixed to fertilize the eggs. These eggs float to the top where, once hes regained his energy, the male collects them in his mouth for a two week incubation. After he expels his two dozen or more fry, he guards them relentlessly for another two weeks. Food is shunnedand the tank will erupt if anything live is flipped in as food for the female. The snake-ettes pretty much hug the bottom, near him, for about a month. If he has a good hiding spot during this time, you will rarely see him. When he does appear, it will only be because his fry have begun roaming and he is ready to start eating again. This is the time to see him in all his colorful splendorwhich he will display as long as the youngsters remain in the tank for him to guard. During this time, it is said that the female of some species will lay unfertilized eggs for the fry to eat. The orientalis does not behave this way. On the whole, she ignores the fry.

I believe you could keep Channa orientalis in Milwaukee tap water, but I didnt, preferring to mix it with R/O at 50%. As Anabantoids, these fish prefer still water, but with PVC “retreats”, they werent discomforted by a power filter sweeping water LENGTHWISE through a 30 gallon long. The temperature was a constant 78-80 degrees. You will notice an “attitude” coloration, particularly in the female, if you change too much water at once. Red (leaf) worms from the local bait shop seem a particularly favorite food. I feed them whole to the adult fish, but did chop them up some when they were younger. Other foods to try are: feeder guppies, freeze-dried krill, frozen bloodworms, mosquito larvae, crickets, small crayfish and simple floating pellet food. This last item is not a favorite once youve fed any of the others, but they will eat it in a pinch.

I hate to imagine how much damage this fascinating species suffered from the bad press this last summer of 2012. There will always be people with disparaging words for those things they dont understand. But in this hobby, with the exchange of ideas being the primary way that people learn; I hope this little article helps educate those that otherwise might continue to spread lies about this truly unique and fascinating fish.

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