MISSOURI – The invasive northern snakehead fish has been captured in Missouri waters once again.
The toothy 13-inch fish, also called the “Frankenfish,” was snagged in a net by state workers who were catching fish for a youth fishing clinic. The specimen was pulled out of the Duck Creek Conservation Area – the same watershed the first snakehead in Missouri was snatched from in 2019. The two fish were captured just 113 river kilometers away from each other.
Wildlife officials immediately began a two-day search for additional northern snakeheads at Duck Creek and neighboring Mingo National Wildlife Refuge.
The federal government banned the import and interstate transport of the northern snakehead in 2002, but its population is growing in other portions of the United States.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Missouri Department of Conservation Fisheries Management Biologist Dave Knuth said the fish is knocking on the door in Arkansas and is considered a beast of the water. During all stages of a northern snakehead’s life, the species will compete with native species for both food and habitat. Adult snakeheads are known for a voracious appetite.
The fish is named for its snake-like appearance and long, cylindrical body. The fish have scales on their heads and a mouth lined with teeth. They prefer slow-moving water to stagnant waters. Additionally, snakeheads possess the ability to breathe oxygen, and can travel on land and survive out of the water for four days.
The native bowfin is often mistaken for the northern snakehead. Bowfins have a short anal fin, pelvic fins and a round tail fin, while snakeheads possess a long anal fin (⅔ the length of the dorsal fin). The bowfin has a round head, while the snakehead features a longer, slender head. Additionally, bowfins have a green tint, and snakeheads feature a speckled body.
Female snakeheads are known to carry as many as 50,000 eggs. Some eggs may not develop correctly, and others could be eaten by small fish or insects, directly after the fertilization process. The species can spawn multiple times per year, and eggs normally hatch 24-48 hours after becoming fertilized.
The prey pattern of the snakehead could broadly disrupt food chains and ecological conditions in Missouri waterways. Experts worry about the possibility of modified numbers in native species and the threat to the recreational fishing industry. If they’re firmly established in the United States, management and recreational damages could in the millions.
Although not wildly popular, the snakehead has been released into some U.S. waterways to create a local food source for fishermen. Missouri officials say if you capture or find a northern snakehead in Missouri you should kill it immediately by removing its head or gutting it.
Missouri anglers are asked to report their catch of a snakehead to the Department of Conservation at 573-290-5858.