Freshwater fishes of the U.S.S.R. and adjacent countries.

L.S. Berg

Table of Contents

  1. Order Ophiocephaliformes
  2. Family Ophiocephalidae
  3. Genus Ophiocephalus Bloch
  4. Ophiocephalus argus warpachowskii Berg. - Amur snakehead [Zmeegolov]


Berg, Sistema ryb (Classification of Fishes), 1940, p. 305.

Swim bladder without ducts. Fins without spines. Ventral fins, if present, behind the pectorals, with 6 soft rays; pelvic bones connected with the clavicles by means of ligaments. Caudal fin 1 12 1. Maxillary not fringing the mouth. Scales cycloid. A nonlabyrinthine suprabranchial organ serving to hold water. Metapterygoid articulating with the sphenotic or with the frontal before the hyomandibular. Frontals articulating with the parasphenoid. Parasphenoid sometimes toothed posteriorly, No intermuscular bones. Swim bladder very long, continued in the caudal region, bifurcates posteriorly. One family.



Body elongate, subcylindrical anteriorly. Head flat above. Dorsal fin single. Dorsal and anal fins elongate. Head scaled dorsally and laterally. Mouth large, terminal. Teeth on the jaws, vomer, and palatines. Gill openings wide; branchiostegal membranes not attached to the isthmus. Gills 4. Vertebrae 50-51.

Two genera: Ophiocephalus Bloch in the fresh waters of Southern Asia and the Indo-Malay Archipelago east to Halmahera Island, and in Eastern Asia north to the Amur basin, and Parophiocephalus Senna 1924 in the fresh waters of Tropical Africa.



Ophicephalus Bloch, Naturgeschichte d. ausländ. Fische, VII, 1793, p. 137 (type: O. punctatus).
Berg, Ryby basseina Amura 1909, p. 197.
Ophiocephalus Günther, Cat. Fish., III, 1861, p. 48 .
Channa (Scopoli 1771) Bloch und Schneider, Syst. ichthyol., 1801, p. 496 (type. Ch. orientalis).
Myers and Shapovalov, Peking Nat. Hist. Bull., VI, Pt. 2, 193 1, p. 34.
Suprabranchial organ of two lamellae, one being formed by the epibranchial of the first gill arch (as in Anabantiformes), the other (absent in Anabantiformes) by an expansion of the hyomandibular. Ventral fins may be absent.

Many species in Baluchistan, India, Indo-China, Indo-Malay Archipelago, on Hainan and Formosa, in China, Korea, and the Amur basin.


Ophiocephalus argus warpachowskii Berg. - Amur snakehead [Zmeegolov] -


Ophiocephalus pekinensis (Basilewsky 1855) Gertsenshte in Trudy Sankt-Peterburgskogo obshchestva estestvoispytatelei, XIX, 1887, p. 23 (mouth of the Muren R. , falling into the Ussuri).
Varpakhovskii, Vestnik rybopromyshlennosti, VII, 1892, p. 148 ("Vladivostok" - probably Lake Khanka; No. 8402, 8403).
Ophicephalus argus (Cantor) Berg, Ryby basseina Amura, 1909, p. 198 (ex parte: Amur basin, Lake Khanka).
Ophicephalus argus warpachowskii Berg ibid., p. 200 (No. 8402, 8403; D 52-53; A 33-38; 1.1. 73 75).
Myers and Shapovalov, Peking Nat. Hist. Bull., VI, Pt. 2, 193 1, p. 34.
Ophicephalus argus and O. argus warpachowskii Berg Ryby presnykh vod SSSR, 11, 1933, pp. 610-611.
Ophicephalus argus Rozov, Rybnoe khozyaistvo Dal'nego Vostoka, 1934, No. 1-2, p. 83 (Lake Khanka).
Probatov, Izvestiya Permskogo biologicheskogo instituta, X. No. 1-2, 1935, p. 56 and Table (Lake Petropavlovskoe in the lower reaches of the Amur; age, growth).
G.Nikol'skii and Taranets, Sbornik trudov Zoologicheskogo muzeya Moskovskago universiteta, V, 1939, p. 153 (Sungari at Harbin).
G. Nikol'skii, Amur i ego ryby, Moskva, 1948, p. 92.
D 50-53; A 33 -38; 1, 1. 63 -75. Ventral fins present. Scales on the dorsal surface of the head small, not larger, or slightly larger, than on the sides of the body. 16 scale series between the posterior end of the eye and the posterior edge of the preopercle.

Premaxillaries with small setiform teeth in several series (uniserial posteriorly); large canine-like teeth scat tered among them. Palatine with both setiform and canine-like teeth. Vomer with many setiform and few canine-like teeth. All canine-like teeth uniserial. Mouth large, its corners reaching behind the posterior end of the eye.

Lateral line curving under the 15th ray of the dorsal fin and then running only slightly above the middle of the body. Irregular dark brown blotches fringed with black and therefore very distinct scattered above and below the lateral line. A double row of dark spots on the upper side of the head and the body. Two long narrow dark streaks running on the sides of the head behind the eyes to the posterior edge of the gill cover. Lower side of the head, lips and abdomen covered with small dark brown speckles. Length up to 800 mm; weight up to 7 kg (Lake Khanka). Sungari. Ussuri basin, Lake Khanka, Amur at Khabarovsk, Tunguska at Khabarovsk. Middle and lower Amur. Absent from the Suifun R. Differs from O. argus Cantor ( Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist., IX, 1842, p. 484), described from Chohsien in China (= O. pekinensis Basilewsky, N. Mém Soc. Nat. Moscou, X, 1855, p. 255 , Plate IX, Figure 3 at Tientsin) in somewhat higher average ray counts in D and A, and somewhat smaller scales. O. argus (D 47-52; A 31 -33; 1. 1. 60-67) is common in China, Russia on the Ussuri and Lake Khanka, erroneously: ugor («eel»). Not counting the small scales on the caudal fin. From Yunnan to Peking; it occurs in the Liao and the Yalu, and in Western and Southern Korea. In winter, in the mouths of the Khanka tributaries and in the bays of the lake, 10 - 15 snakeheads are taken per fishing effort. Young snakeheads (12 - 25 cm) are common in the oxbow lakes of the Khanka basin. From the coves of the Sintukha R. at its falling into Lake Khanka, A. I. Cherskii brought many young specimens of snakehead, 51-65 mm. in total length, collected on 3 August (New Style) 1914 (No. 28106, 29293). Uchida and Fujimoto made interesting observations concerning the habits of O. argus in Korea.1 This fish definitely requires air-breathing: it perishes even in clear fresh water if it has no access to atmospheric air. At the air temperature of 10 - 15 C°, the snakehead can stay alive out of water for 3 - 4 days. The snakehead spawns in June and July, when the male and the female build a nest of plant stems and leaves on the surface of water (diameter of the nest may reach one meter). Average fecundity 7,300 eggs. The female oviposits from one to five times per season. Eggs pelagic, 2 mm in diameter. Incubation period at 25 C° 45 hours. Maturation at the age of 2 years (length 30 cm). Total length in Korea usually 35 - 45 cm (age 2 - 4 years). The largest specimen investigated measured 85 cm. Much valued in Korea as a commercial fish.



1 K. Uchida and M. Fujimoto, Bull. Fishery Exper. Station of Chosen, No. 3, Fusan, 1933, pp. 89-91. This text is in Japanese. But it contains a smaller English abstract wich can be found here. []. Back

Acknowledgement and Source(s)

This chapter was originally published in: Freshwater fishes of the U.S.S.R. and adjacent countries , 1949, vol. 3, pp. 75-77.

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