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Channa melasoma (Bleeker, 1851)
Black Snakehead

Channa melasoma - Black Snakehead - click to enlarge

Upper image: adult; photo by K.K.P. Lim. Lower image: subadult.

    Reprinted with permission from P.K.L. Ng from Lee, P.G., and P.K.L. Ng. 1991. The snakehead fishes of the Indo-Malayan region. Nature Malaysiana 16(4):112-129.

Channa melasoma - Black Snakehead - click to enlarge

After Bleeker, 1878

Original description: Ophicephalus melasoma Bleeker, 1851:424. Vijfde bijdrage tot de kennis der ichthyologische fauna van Borneo, met beschrijving van eeinige nieuwe soorten van zoetwatervisschen. Natuurkd. Tijdschr. Neder. Indi 2:415-442. Type locality: Sambas, western Borneo. Whereabouts of holotype unknown.

Synonyms: Ophicephalus rhodotaenia Bleeker, 1851:425.
                   Ophicephalus mystax Bleeker, 1853:188.
                   Ophicephalus melanosoma Bleeker, 1856:214.
                   Ophiocephalus melanosoma Gunther, 1861:473.
                   Ophiocephalus baramensis Steindachner, 1901:3435,
                           fide Roberts, 1989, Ng and Lim, 1990, and Rainboth, 1996.
                           Species revalidated by Ng and others, 1996.
                   Note: Frequently misspelled melanosoma (Ng and Lim, 1990).

Common names: black snakehead; ikan bakak (Malay).

         Native range: Chao Phraya River, near Bangkok, Thailand (misidentification?); Mekong River in Cambodia (Rainboth, 1996; misidentification?); rivers of southeastern Sumatra; rivers of western Kalimantan, particularly the Kapuas basin (southern Borneo); Bangka and Belitung (Billiton) islands; Palawan Archipelago, Philippines (Inger and Kong, 1962; Roberts, 1989; Ng and Lim, 1990; Lee and Ng, 1991). Bean and Weed (1912) reported the species from Java, later challenged by Weber and de Beaufort (1922), and there is no evidence that it occurs there (Ng and Lim, 1990). Smith (1945) reported this species as rare in Thailand, and Lee and Ng (1994) stated that because of its preference for acidic waters, the species is more common toward the southern part of the Malay Peninsula. It is present but apparently rare in the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest of the Malaysia Peninsula (Ng and others, 1992). Peter Ng (personal commun., 2003) reported occurrence of this species in the Golok area of southern Thailand. Records of this species from northern Borneo (Sarawak, Brunei, and Sabah) are misidentifications of the endemic Channa baramensis (Ng and others, 1996).

         Introduced range: Uncertain. Presence of this species on Palawan (Kottelat, 1985; Roberts, 1989) may have resulted from an introduction. The same may be true in the Chao Phraya River, Thailand, and Mekong River, Cambodia, unless misidentified.

         Size: To 35 cm (Inger and Kong, 1962).

         Habitat preference: Prefers shaded, clear water forest streams with mud bottom and leaf litter, but is also found in turbid waters. Reported to burrow into mud bottom when disturbed (Lee and Ng, 1991). Seems to prefer waters of pH 5-5.3 (Lee and Ng, 1994). Also occurs in middle parts of rivers. Capable of locomotion on land (Lee and Ng, 1994). Rainboth (1996) stated that it prefers “sluggish or standing waters” in the Mekong River basin.

         Temperature range: No specific information, but native range of Channa melasoma is tropical (Borneo) to subtropical (Thailand).

         Reproductive habits: A nest builder like other channids; only one parent guards eggs and young (Ng and Lim, 1990).

         Feeding habits: A nocturnal thrust predator (Ng and Lim, 1990; Lee and Ng, 1991, 1994). Feeds on other fishes, lizards, crabs, insects and insect larvae (Inger and Kong, 1962; Ng and Lim, 1990; Rainboth, 1996).

         Characters: No patch of scales on gular region. Dorsal fin rays 37-40; anal fin rays 22-25; pectoral rays 14-17. Lateral line scales 50-54; transverse scale rows from lateral line to dorsal fin origin 4-51/2; transverse scale rows from lateral line to anal fin origin 71/2. Color in preservative dark brown above, pale below, with fins dusky or dark and caudal fin usually barred. Many lateral scales with dark central spots (Inger and Chin, 1962). See account of Channa baramensis for characters that separate C. melasoma from this closely related species.

         Commercial importance in the United States: Rarely mentioned on aquarist-oriented websites. Not known to have been imported as a live-food fish species.

         Commercial importance in native range: Probably nil. This species is primarily nocturnal and reported to be difficult to capture (Lee and Ng, 1991). Rainboth (1996) noted that it is not found in markets in Cambodia.

         Environmental concerns: This species is a nocturnal thrust predator, known to feed on other fishes as well as lizards, crabs, and insects (Lee and Ng, 1991).

Distribution of Channa melasoma - click to enlarge


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