MDC confirms fourth invasive northern snakehead captured in Missouri

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WAYNE COUNTY, Mo. – Fisheries biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) confirm a fourth northern snakehead has been recorded in the state. The fish was caught by an angler May 25 below Wappapello Lake Spillway in Wayne County.

The northern snakehead fish (Channa argus) is a long bodied, predatory fish that is not native to the U.S. This fish’s head resembles a snake, thus its name. Its body can grow up to 3 feet long with python-like coloration and pattern.

“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.”

The snakehead was then transported to the local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) office. MDC Wayne County Conservation Agent Jacob Plunkett recovered the bag at 11 p.m. on May 25, nearly four hours after the fish was left in the bag. 

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

Unlike most fish, the northern snakehead can breathe air, which allows survival in poorly oxygenated water or out of water for several days if their skin stays moist. They can also slither across land to return to water.

Snakeheads are an invasive species native to Asia. They’re aggressive predators, preying on native species, and competing for resources.

MDC reminds the public it is illegal to import, export, sell, purchase, or possess a live northern snakehead in Missouri. MDC will continue to monitor its spread in the state.

The first northern snakehead recorded in Missouri was caught in a borrow ditch within the St. Francis River levees in Dunklin County in 2019. MDC confirmed an additional two northern snakehead captures in 2023.

What to Do if You Catch One

  • Make sure it’s a snakehead. Northern snakeheads can be confused with the native bowfin. Snakeheads have a snake-like appearance with a much longer anal fin than the bowfin.
  • 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.
  • Kill the fish by severing the head, gutting it, or placing it in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Photograph the fish so the species can be positively identified.
  • Note the location of the catch.
  • Report any catches and sightings of the fish to MDC’s Southeast Regional Office at 573-290-5730.

Learn more about the northern snakehead fish and its negative impact on aquatic habitats at