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Invasive fish with the head of a snake that can slither across land discovered in Missouri – again

Invasive Northern Snakehead reeling in restaurant guests in Maryland
Invasive Northern Snakehead reeling in restaurant guests in Maryland 03:14

An invasive fish with the head of a snake and the ability to survive on land for several days has been detected in Missouri. The state's Department of Conservation confirmed on Friday that a northern snakehead fish had been caught by a fisherman, marking the fourth observation of the invasive species in Missouri. 

The department says that the northern snakehead fish can grow up to three feet long "with python-like coloration and pattern" and has a head that "resembles a snake." The first time of the invasive specimens was caught in the state was in 2019, CBS affiliate KFVS reported, with the two others being found last year.

MDC Fisheries biologist Dave Knuth said in a press release that once the angler realized he had a snakehead fish, he "left it on the pavement for several hours thinking it would die." 

"And it never did," he said. 

Officials put the fish in a bag and spent several hours transporting it to various departments. By the time conservation agent Jacob Plunkett got ahold of the fish, nearly four hours after it was placed in a bag, he said "it was still very much alive." 

Most fish cannot survive outside of water for very long, but northern snakeheads are able to breathe air and can survive out of the water "for several days if their skin stays moist," the Missouri Department of Conservation said, adding that "they can also slither across land to return to water." 

Northern snakeheads are one of three invasive snakehead species in the U.S. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, this species is native to Russia, China and the Korean Peninsula and "is the only one of the dozens of species of Channa well-suited to survive in America's temperate water." 

The service said the animals have "large mouths full of pointed teeth," "flat, scaly heads" and are "exceptionally slimy," and that they are often misidentified as Bowfin fish and pickerels. 

If anyone believes they have spotted a northern snakehead, they are advised not to release it back into the water. Instead, Missouri officials say they should either kill the fish by severing its head or gutting it or put it in a sealed plastic bag. The fish should also be photographed so it can be properly identified. 

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