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Northern snakehead

Northern snakehead. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

JEFFERSON CITY — The northern snakehead is in many ways the perfect invasive species, which is why its presence in Missouri worries state conservation officials.

It can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures. It can reproduce five times per year. It preys on animals that native species eat. And, it can survive several days out of water.

On April 25, an angler caught a northern snakehead in a "borrow ditch within the St. Francis River levees" of Dunklin County, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The catch was the first time the fish had officially been found in Missouri, and officials do not have information to suggest there is an established population in the state.

The northern snakehead (Channa argus) is native to China, Russia and Korea. It was popular at fish markets in the United States prior to being banned from importation in 2002, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The fish was imported and farmed in Monroe County, Ark., in 2000, according to the Department of Conservation, and was discovered swimming in Arkansas waters in 2008.

In May 2018, the fish was discovered in Lake City, Ark., about 15 miles from where the angler in Dunklin County caught the fish last month. 

Dunklin County is in Missouri's Bootheel, in the far southeast corner of the state.

“We will continue to monitor the spread in southeast Missouri,” said Dave Knuth, a state fisheries management biologist, in a statement.

The fish can grow up to 33 inches, according to the federal government. In addition to Arkansas, it has also been found in California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Department of Conservation recommends killing any northern snakeheads anglers may catch.

Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.

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