Indonesia Fishes

Channa-micropeltes, Giant snakehead, Toman

Channa-micropeltes, Giant snakehead, Toman

The giChanna-micropeltes, Giant snakehead, Tomanant snakehead (Channa micropeltes) is the largest in the family Channidae, capable of growing to over 1 meter in length (3 feet) and a weight of over 20 kilograms (40 pounds). It is widely distributed in the freshwater of South East Asia and some regions of India. Other names include red snakehead, redline snakehead, Malabar snakehead, and Ikan toman (where ikan is Indonesian for fish).
The young of the giant snakehead are red in color, with orange and black lateral stripes appearing after about two months. As the giant snakehead matures, they lose their stripes and instead develop a bluish black and white pattern on their upper body. Juveniles sold in the aquarium fish trade are commonly called red or redline snakeheads.
2cm long fry. Its color when young explains another of its names, the red snakehead.
Being a high level predator means that the giant snakehead eats many other fish, amphibians and even small birds, but is not preyed upon by many other species. The giant snakehead is considered gregarious, with the young often following their mother closely. There have been reports of protective mother giant snakehead attacking men who have disturbed the snakehead’s school of juveniles.

The species has the ability to crawl onto land. However, contrary to popular belief, it is highly unlikely that it can survive for up up to four days, as has been reported. While a C. micropletes might be able to wriggle short distances, the body shape is not well suited for it.

Use as Food

In Malaysia and Singapore, known locally as the toman, are cultured in fish ponds and reservoirs as game fish because they put up a strong fight when hooked. The giant snakehead is also a good food fish, and is often served in Chinese restaurants. Some people, however, dislike the muddy taste associated with freshwater fish.


The giant snakehead is found in Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, India, and possibly Myanmar. It has an oddly disjunctive distribution, inhabiting both southeast Asia and southwest India, about 2500 km apart. It is theorized that the Indian population may be from an early human introduction, prior to the 19th century. In India it is found in southern Tamilnadu and Kerala especially in Pechipparai, Chittar I & II, Neyyar and Temnalai Reservoirs. Ebanasar (1995) reported its distribution and Biology from these reservoirs.

Ebanasar (1995) has also conducted series of experiments on the biology, physiology and culture of this fish. It is reported that this fish is highly suitable for cage cultute and culture in ponds in combination with tilapia. It is found to be an effective tool in controlling the overpopulation of tilapia and thus checks stunted growth of tilapia.

C. micropeltes as an invasive species

In 2002 and 2003, three specimens were caught in Maryland, USA all believed to have been released pets. In 2003, a giant snakehead was caught in Rock River, Wisconsin.  Biologists were concerned that warmwater effluents could allow the tropical species to survive in the colder climate.

In 2008, a specimen of C. micropeltes was reportedly caught by an angler while fishing for pike on the River Witham in Lincolnshire, England The claim of this catch is highly suspect, it was reportedly caught in late winter, and being a tropical species it would not have been able to survive, let alone feed in an English river during winter. It is not clear if the species is breeding in the wild, or if this was an escaped captive specimen; a source within the Environment Agency was quoted as saying ?The reaction was, ‘Oh s***’. This is the ultimate invasive species ? if it starts breeding here it’s a disaster.”