Dwarf snakehead Care Guide: Diet, Tank Mates, Diseases, Breeding & More

Updated: December 17, 2022

The Dwarf Snakehead is a beautiful and easy to care for freshwater fish that is perfect for beginners.

This species is native to Africa and is known for its aggressiveness and hunting ability. In the wild, they can grow up to 3 feet long, but in captivity, they only grow to be about a foot long.

Despite their small size, they are still a powerful predator and should not be kept with smaller fish. They are also known to be good jumpers, so a tight-fitting lid is a must.

Other than that, they are a hardy and adaptable fish that is relatively easy to care for. In this guide, we will go over everything you need to know about Dwarf Snakehead care.

Species overview

Dwarf snakeheads (Channa harcourtbutleri) are found all throughout Sri Lanka in a wide variety of habitats.

They can be found in everything from fast-moving rivers to stagnant marshes and everything in between. This makes them one of the more adaptable species of snakehead out there.

Dwarf snakeheads are relatively small compared to other members of their family, only growing to be about 10 cm in length.

Their diet consists mostly of small insects and crustaceans, although they are known to eat the occasional small fish as well.

Dwarf snakeheads are a popular choice for aquariums because of their small size and peaceful nature. They are also one of the more colorful species of snakehead, with a bright orange belly and blue spots on their body.


Dwarf snakehead

The first thing you’ll probably notice about the Dwarf snakehead is their long and slender body shape. These guys can get pretty big (up to two feet in some cases), but they’re usually only about a foot long.

They have a long head that’s slightly flattened on top with large eyes that sit just behind the center of their head. Their mouths are pretty big as well and they have sharp teeth that they use to grip their prey.

The body of the Dwarf snakehead is covered in large scales that have a dark brown or black coloration. These scales have a bit of a shine to them which can make the fish look wet even when they’re not.

They have a long and thin dorsal fin that starts just behind their head and extends back to about the middle of their body. Their anal fin is similar in size and shape, but it starts a bit further back towards the tail.

The caudal fin of the Dwarf snakehead is forked and it’s slightly taller than it is wide.


In the wild, the Dwarf snakehead has a lifespan of 3-5 years. But in captivity, they can live up to 10 years with the proper care!

The Dwarf snakehead is a very resilient fish. They can live in a wide range of water conditions and are not overly sensitive to changes.

However, like all animals, they will live longest and be healthiest in optimal conditions.


Dwarf snakeheads only grow to be about 4 to 6 inches long.


Tank Size

The minimum tank size for a dwarf snakehead is 30 gallons. If you want to keep more than one fish, you should add an additional 10 gallons for each fish.

Dwarf snakeheads are a predatory fish and will eat smaller fish. If you want to keep them with other fish, make sure the other fish are too large to fit into the mouth of the dwarf snakehead.

Water Parameters

The ideal water parameters for a dwarf snakehead are as follows:

  • Water temperature: 72-82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH levels: 6.0-7.5
  • Water hardness: 4-12 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 2-12 dKH

Dwarf snakeheads are a bit more sensitive to water quality than some other freshwater fish. As such, you should perform regular water tests and do your best to maintain consistent water parameters.

What To Put In Their Tank

Dwarf snakeheads are a predatory fish, which means they will need a tank that reflects their natural habitat.

A sandy substrate is recommended, as this will help keep the water quality high and make it easier for the fish to find food.

Rocks and driftwood can also be added to the tank, but make sure they are well-secured so the snakehead cannot upturn them.

Plants can be added to the tank, but the snakehead may eat them, so it is best to stick with hardier species such as Anubias or Java Fern.

Common Diseases

Dwarf snakeheads are relatively hardy fish, but they can still get sick if they’re not kept in the right conditions.

The most common illness that these fish experience is ich. This is a parasitic infection that is quite common in freshwater fish. It’s caused by a single-celled organism that burrows into the skin of the fish.

The most obvious symptom of ich is the presence of white spots on the body of the fish. These spots will usually appear on the fins and gills first, but can quickly spread to the rest of the body.

If left untreated, ich can be fatal. However, it is relatively easy to treat if you catch it early.

Other potential illnesses include bacterial infections, fungal infections, and parasites. These are all relatively uncommon in Dwarf snakeheads, but can still occur if the fish are kept in poor water conditions.

The best way to prevent your Dwarf snakehead from getting sick is to maintain a clean and stable tank. This will create an environment that is less conducive to illness and will help your fish stay healthy.

Behavior & Temperament

The dwarf snakehead is a peaceful fish that is typically found in schools. In the wild, these fish live in slow-moving waters and can be found in both fresh and brackish water environments.

Dwarf snakeheads are relatively shy fish. In the wild, they spend most of their time hiding in vegetation to avoid predators. In captivity, they will often do the same thing.

If you keep your dwarf snakehead in a community tank, it is important to provide them with plenty of hiding places. Otherwise, they may become stressed and stop eating.

When it comes to temperament, the dwarf snakehead is a relatively peaceful fish. They will do best in a community tank with other peaceful fish.

Tank Mates

It can be difficult to find the right tank mates for a dwarf snakehead.

This is because the fish is both aggressive and predatory. It’s not uncommon for these fish to eat their tank mates!

The best tank mates for a dwarf snakehead are other aggressive fish that can hold their own. These fish need to be able to defend themselves and not be on the menu.

With that in mind, here are some compatible species:

  • Other Dwarf Snakeheads
  • Oscar Cichlids
  • Jack Dempsey Cichlids
  • Green Terror Cichlids
  • Firemouth Cichlids
  • Convict Cichlids


Breeding Dwarf snakeheads is a bit more difficult than some of the other species on this list. They’re not the easiest fish to sex and they tend to be quite aggressive when spawning.

Males and females look very similar. The biggest difference is that males tend to be slightly larger and have a more elongated body.

To encourage breeding, you should set up a specialized breeding tank. It should hold at least 20 gallons of water. The water should be between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add plenty of hiding places and some live plants. Then, slowly acclimate the fish to their new environment.

When you’re ready to start breeding, add two females for every male. The ratio is important because males can be quite aggressive.

Once the fish have been added to the tank, you should see spawning activity within a few days. The female will lay her eggs on the underside of a leaf or in a cave. The male will then fertilize them.

After the eggs have been fertilized, the male will guard them until they hatch. This can take anywhere from 3 to 5 days.

Once the fry have hatched, you can remove the adults and start feeding them live foods. Baby brine shrimp and microworms are a good place to start.


The Dwarf Snakehead is an excellent choice for a beginner fish keeper. They’re easy to care for and don’t require a lot of specialized equipment or knowledge.

They’re also a lot of fun to watch and are very curious fish. They’re not the most active fish, but they’re not couch potatoes either.

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance fish that you can enjoy watching, the Dwarf Snakehead is a great choice!