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

Updated: December 17, 2022

The ocellated snakehead is a very unique and interesting freshwater fish that is unfortunately quite rare.

This species is native to Africa and is not found in the wild anywhere else in the world.

They are, however, becoming more and more popular in the aquarium trade.

If you’re lucky enough to find one of these fish, you’ll need to know how to care for them properly. That’s what this guide is for!

We’ll teach you everything you need to know about ocellated snakehead care, from diet and tank size to lifespan and compatible tank mates.

Species overview

The ocellated snakehead (Channa ocellata) is a species of freshwater fish that is native to Sri Lanka.

This fish can reach up to 60 cm in length, making it one of the larger species of snakehead. They are a brownish color with black spots and have a long, snake-like body.

Ocellated snakeheads are ambush predators and will lie in wait for their prey. They are known to eat a variety of smaller fish, crustaceans, and insects.

This species is not commonly kept as a pet, but there is a small number of hobbyists who keep them in aquariums.


Ocellated snakehead

The first thing you’ll notice about this species is their unique eyes. Ocellated snakeheads have big, bulbous eyes that sit on top of their heads.

This gives them a very “frog-like” appearance that is rather distinct.

The rest of their body is long, thin, and eel-like with a bit of a snake-like appearance (especially around the head).

These fish have a very long dorsal fin that starts just behind their head and extends all the way back to their caudal peduncle.

Their anal fin is much shorter and sits about halfway back on their body. Both of these fins are similar in shape and appearance.

Ocellated snakeheads have a forked caudal fin that is taller than it is wide. This fin is slightly transparent with a few dark spots on the tips of the ray.

The coloration on this species is very unique and can vary quite a bit. They can be brown, green, yellow, or even a bluish-purple.

There are usually some darker spots or bands running along their body as well.


The ocellated snakehead is a freshwater fish native to Africa. It is a member of the Channidae family, which contains a total of 38 species of snakeheads.

The ocellated snakehead grows to a maximum length of 100 cm (3.3 ft). It is a predator and feeds on other fish, frogs, and small mammals.

The ocellated snakehead has a lifespan of 10 to 15 years.


Ocellated snakeheads can reach sizes of up to 3 feet in length, but are more commonly around 2 feet long.


Tank Size

The minimum tank size for an ocellated snakehead is 500 gallons. This fish gets extremely large, up to 4 feet in length, and is extremely active. If you’re looking for a smaller freshwater fish this is not the one for you.

This fish is not recommended for beginners as they are difficult to care for. They are also not recommended for community tanks as they are known to be aggressive and will often eat smaller fish.

Water Parameters

The Ocellated Snakehead is a freshwater fish that is indigenous to Southeast Asia. In the wild, they can be found in slow-moving waters such as ponds, lakes, and marshes.

They are a hardy fish that can tolerate a wide range of water parameters. However, for optimal health, it is best to maintain the following water parameters.

  • Water temperature: 72 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: 5 to 15 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 2-12 dKH

What To Put In Their Tank

When it comes to setting up the inside of an aquarium for Ocellated Snakeheads you can be as creative as you want. There aren’t any specific things that this species NEEDS to have, which gives you plenty of options.

We recommend some of the standard decorations that you find in a lot of freshwater tanks. There are a ton of great plants you can include (like hornwort or water wisteria). You can even throw in some floating aquarium plants too!

Rocks, driftwood, and caves are all suitable as well. It’s important to avoid going overboard with this since these fish like some room to swim.

Also, if you’re keeping your Ocellated Snakeheads in a smaller tank then it’s going to be difficult to include a lot of this stuff anyway.

A classic gravel substrate is always a good choice, but you can do with something soft and sandy if needed too (use other species you keep as a guide with this).

Common Diseases

Ocellated snakeheads are actually quite hardy fish. They don’t often fall ill, and when they do it’s usually because of something that could have been easily prevented.

One of the most common diseases that these fish suffer from is gill flukes. This is a parasitic infection that’s caused by poor water quality.

The first sign that your fish has gill flukes is usually labored breathing. They’ll also scratch themselves a lot (on rocks, plants, etc.), and you might see some redness/inflammation on their gills.

If you think your fish might have gill flukes, the best thing to do is to immediately improve the water quality in their tank. This usually clears up the infection pretty quickly.

If the water quality in their tank is already good, then you might want to treat the tank with a medication that’s specifically designed to kill parasites.

Another thing to watch out for is infection from wounds. These fish are pretty tough, but they can still get hurt (usually from fighting with other fish).

If you see any cuts or scrapes on your snakehead, you’ll want to clean the wound and keep an eye on it. If it doesn’t heal within a few days, or if it looks like it’s getting worse, then you might need to take them to the vet.

Behavior & Temperament

The ocellated snakehead is a predatory fish, so it’s important to be aware of that before putting one in your tank. It’s not uncommon for these fish to eat smaller tank mates, so it’s best to keep them with fish that are too large to fit in their mouths.

Other than that, they’re not particularly aggressive fish. In fact, they’re pretty mellow most of the time. They’re not known to swim around a lot, so don’t expect them to be very active.

You might see them “walking” across the bottom of the tank from time to time. That’s because they have the ability to breathe air, so they can survive in water that is low in oxygen.

When it comes to temperament, these fish are pretty laid back. They’re not known to cause any trouble in the tank.

Tank Mates

Ocellated snakeheads are one of the most peaceful members of their family. They can be kept with other fish, but their tank mates need to be chosen carefully.

First and foremost, these fish are piscivores. They will eat any fish they can fit in their mouths, including tank mates.

This means that you need to be extra careful when choosing ocellated snakehead tank mates. The best fish for the job are those that are too large to be eaten and those that occupy different parts of the water column.

Some good examples of ocellated snakehead tank mates include:


Ocellated snakeheads are mouthbrooders, which means that the female will carry the eggs and fry in her mouth until they are ready to be released into the water.

The best way to trigger spawning is to raise the water temperature to 86 degrees Fahrenheit and then do a large water change. This will simulate the seasonal changes that trigger spawning in the wild.

Once the female is ready to spawn, she will lay her eggs on a flat surface. The male will then fertilize them.

After the eggs are fertilized, the female will pick them up in her mouth and carry them around until they hatch. This usually takes about two weeks.

Once the fry have hatched, the female will release them into the water. At this point, you can start feeding them baby brine shrimp or other live foods.

As they grow, you can start feeding them larger foods such as pellets or flakes.


The Ocellated Snakehead is a beautiful and unique fish that is perfect for the intermediate to advanced aquarium keeper.

They are not the easiest fish to keep and do require some care and attention, but we think they’re definitely worth it.

If you’re looking for a fish that will stand out in your tank and provide you with hours of enjoyment, then we highly recommend the Ocellated Snakehead!