Giant Snakehead 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

The Giant Snakehead is known by many names: Channa micropeltes, Indonesian Snakehead, Giant Mudfish, and more. 

Channa micropeltes is the largest member of the Channidae family, growing up to 4.9 feet in length. 

This fish species can be found distributed across bodies of fresh water in Southeast Asia. It also exists in an invasive capacity in other countries. 

Caring for a Giant Snakehead is a demanding task that will cost you both time and money, so it’s important to be prepared and fully informed going into the process. 

Care Guide

Tank Size

If you’re considering bringing home a Giant Snakehead, the first step in your preparations should be to invest in a tank of the correct size. 

Given the very large size of the Giant Snakehead when fully grown (a maximum of 4.9 feet), you will need the largest aquarium you can get your hands on outside of the commercial fish-keeping industry. 

The minimum size you should consider for a Giant Snakehead aquarium is 13 feet in length, which is equivalent to approximately 4 meters. Anything smaller than this simply will not be sufficient to accommodate a fully grown Giant Snakehead comfortably. 

You’ll also need to bear in mind that, if you choose to introduce any tank mates into the aquarium (see below), your aquarium will need to be even larger. That’s why, in most cases, you won’t find Giant Snakeheads outside of public aquariums: for the majority of fish owners, keeping a single fish in a 4 to 6-meter aquarium simply isn’t practical or space-efficient. 

Tank Mates

Giant Snakeheads are natural predators due to their superior size, which means that finding appropriate tank mates for this fish can be tricky. 

For obvious reasons, you shouldn’t put very small fish with limited defensive abilities in the same tank as a Giant Snakehead. That’s a recipe for disaster. 

If you want to introduce a companion to your Giant Snakehead, you should choose a fish of a similar size (which, of course, will mean that you’ll need to significantly increase your aquarium size). You will also need to introduce the tank mate to the aquarium at the same time as the Snakehead so that the Snakehead doesn’t attack the new tank mate territorially. 

Medium-to-large-sized fish such as Koi fish and Carp usually make the best tank mates for Giant Snakeheads. 

Same Species Tanks

Of course, you also have the option (presuming you can find a large enough tank, which is unlikely if you’re not a public aquarium owner) of keeping more than one Giant Snakehead in the same tank. 

While this might seem like a safer option than introducing an entirely different species into the aquarium, there are still several considerations that will need to be made before you take this step. 

First, you should think about whether to home two Giant Snakeheads of the same sex together or not. This is definitely the best choice if you don’t want to run the risk of reproduction in your already full tank. However, this then begs the question of whether you will house two males or two females together. 

When making this decision, you should bear in mind that the females of the species grow larger than the males, which will require a larger tank. Additionally, there is typically more potential for aggression between two male Giant Snakeheads, which could cause problems for your tank dynamic. 

Water Parameters

Giant Snakeheads are freshwater fish, which means that they cannot live in saltwater. Therefore, the first step in creating the ideal environment for a Giant Snakehead is to ensure that all water in the tank is fresh. 

The pH of the water is also an important factor to consider. Your Giant Snakehead will need water that ranges from neutral to acidic. The optimal range is somewhere between 5 and 7 on the pH scale. 

In terms of temperature, you should keep the water in your Giant Snakehead’s tank between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. 

What to Put in Their Tank

Something many new fish-keepers don’t know about Giant Snakeheads is that they need to breathe in oxygen directly from the air as well as from the water. In fact, Giant Snakeheads can live on land for up to 4 consecutive days. 

Because of this, you will need to leave a decent gap between the surface of the water and the lid of the aquarium so that your Snakehead can come to the surface to breathe. 

It’s also important to include various areas in the tank where your Snakehead can seek shelter, especially if there are multiple Snakeheads in the tank. This should take the form of plants and other decorative items that can serve as hiding places. 

You should put larger pieces of gravel at the bottom of the tank instead of finer substrate because Giant Snakeheads are very muscular, and although they are usually quite inactive, they are prone to accelerating suddenly, which can cause decorations to be upturned and substrate to be thrown around the tank. 

Common Diseases

Giant Snakeheads are known to be susceptible to a disease called Lymphocystis Virus. This is a relatively common virus amongst both freshwater and saltwater fish, and it’s both enduring and contagious. 

Lymphocystis is a disease of the skin that causes growths on the Snakehead’s fins and body. There is no cure for the virus as of yet, but surgery can sometimes be necessary if the growths reach a point where they prevent the fish from swimming, eating, or even breathing effectively. There is also a risk of bacterial infection, which can ultimately lead to death. 

Food & Diet

The Giant Snakehead is an obligate carnivore, meaning that it exclusively feeds on other animals, and must do so in order to remain in good health. 

For the most part, the Giant Snakehead’s diet consists of smaller fish, amphibians such as frogs and lizards, insects, and aquatic invertebrates. These are the food sources you should aim to provide for your Giant Snakehead on a consistent basis for optimal health. Food does not necessarily have to be live, but it is preferred.

On rare occasions, you may supplement your Giant Snakehead’s diet with dry fish food, but you should avoid doing this unless absolutely necessary for a particular reason because this type of food is not sufficiently nutritious or satisfying for the Giant Snakehead.


In the wild, the Giant Snakehead can be expected to live for 8 years or more, which is quite an impressive lifespan for a fish. 

In captivity, however, it is not uncommon for a Giant Snakehead to live for between 10 and 15 years. 


The Giant Snakehead’s common name, in itself, tells you much of what you need to know about this fish’s appearance. 

Giant Snakeheads have scaly, snakelike heads with large jaws and pointed teeth. The color of the Giant Snakehead typically changes as it grows older. In its juvenile years, it may have a golden or grey tint to its otherwise brown body, which gets darker with maturity. Dark spots usually also develop with age. 


Giant Snakeheads can grow up to 4.9 feet long and weigh up to 44 lbs when fully grown. As we’ll cover in further detail below, however (see ‘Gender Differences’), the length of the body can vary between males and females. 

Behavior & Temperament 

The Giant Snakehead has a naturally aggressive temperament with a high predatory drive. 

Giant Snakeheads are geared towards territorial behavior, which makes them incompatible tank mates for the vast majority of other fish species and can frequently lead to altercations with members of their own species.


The Giant Snakehead reaches sexual maturity after one year, at which point, it is able to start breeding. 

Both the male and the female take active roles in parenting, building a nest in a sheltered area with plenty of plants and guarding the eggs until they hatch. 

Mating season for the Giant Snakehead is year-round, and females can lay up to 15,000 eggs, 5 times a year!

Gender Differences: Male vs. Female

Male Giant Snakeheads tend to have shorter bodies than females. The body of the female Giant Snakehead also differs from that of the male by way of a larger belly. 

The males of the Giant Snakehead species will often have slightly larger heads and, specifically, steeper foreheads than females. A more pronounced arch may also be identified on the dorsal fins of male Giant Snakeheads. 

Other than these subtle differences, however, it can be very difficult to sex Giant Snakeheads, so potential owners should take great care when introducing two members of this species into a singular aquarium. 

Fun Facts

  1.  Giant Snakeheads consume their prey whole, in a single mouthful, which is why the best tank mates for this fish are those that are at least ⅔ of the Snakehead’s size. 
  2. Giant Snakeheads have been known to attack humans under specific circumstances in which they feel threatened. This is partly why ownership of a Giant Snakehead has actually been banned in 13 states.