Channa lucia

{pronunciation} loo-see-ya

Common name:

pla-ka song (Thailand); Runtuck (Borneo) gabus (Java); Ubi (Malay).

First description:

Cuvier, G.& Valenciennes, A. 1831.
Ophicephalus lucius
Histoire Naturelle Poissons. Vol.VII. pp.416-417.


'The narrow head, concave dorsal profile and distinctive body pattern easily distinguish this species' (from other Channidae) (Tweedie 1949).


D: 39-43 A: 27-30 C: 13 V: present Ratio: 3.0-3.5




The dorsal and anal fins are a pale yellow, the caudal is grey. All fins are spotted or streaked with rows of blackish or whitish spots. The pectorals are white and barred brown.

The upper body pigmentation is dark with round black spots, irregulary arranged. In the middle the markings are more or less obsolete, sometimes disappearing. The belly is lighter and has dark streaks.

On the head can be seen round black spots, irregulary arranged on upper part, with similar spots on the cheeks.

Juvenile differences in colouration:

This species is often mistaken for C.micropeltes when young because of the similarity of their markings, although close scrutiny of the position of the stripes running through the eye, aids identification :

a) In C.lucia the bottom band runs through the eye.
b) Whilst C.micropeltes has the top stripe through the eye.

C.lucia, at a size of 50 mm, has an overall plain silvery body, with two distinct unbroken lines running from the lips along the total length of the body. The top stripe carries into the top sector of the caudal, whilst the bottom band runs parallel with the former, to the lower part of this fin. All fins, including the near perfectly rounded caudal, are unmarked at this stage.

The upper torso colouration is brownish, the centre of each spot formed by darker oblique streaks. The mid-section is yellowish. A black lateral interrupted band runs from the the eye to the base of the caudal, forming two series of alternating large spots. These, in turn produce a light, zig-zig area between them. The lower part of the body has similar dark streaks.

As the fish grows longer than 5 cms, the two black stripes break up into separate blotches and the background changes to a light brown or orange colour dorsally. Ventrally, the belly is creamy-white and dark spotting appears on the belly The dorsal, anal and caudal fins become heavily marked with spots and blotches. The pectoral fins are flecked with white markings and the ventral fins become darkly spotted. The eyes are small, with the top and bottom margins light and the central section is dark, to match the bottom stripe. The nostrils are very short and hardle visible.


Smith (1945) states that this fish has a more 'snakey' head than other related Channa species and grows to a length of 400 mm.


Ophiocephalus lucius, Ophiocephalus polylepis, Ophiocephalus bistriatus, Ophiocephalus bivittatus, Channa bistriata.

Sub-species and colour variants:

Geographical location:

Channa lucia is widely known from the Indo-Australian Archipelago ( Weber & deBeaufort 1922), Thailand, and Vietnam. It is reported from, but not so common in, China. Further information on locations can be found in the following:

Balikpan: Weber & de Beaufort 1922

The Island of Billiton: Beaufort (1939).

Borneo: Bleeker (1850); Vaillant(1902); Steindachner (1901); Hardenberg (1936).

China: Reeves (1927)

Java: Vaas (1952)

Korea: Reeves (1927)

Malayan Peninsular: Dunker (1904); Herre & Myers (1937); Johnson (1967); Tweedie (1933) Tweedie (1949).

Sarawak: Karoli (1882)

Singapore: Herre and Myers (1937)

Thailand: Fowler (1934); Geisler et al. (1979); Hora (1923).

Vietnam: Kuronuma (1961)


In a population survey of three seperate biotopes within the country of Thailand, Geisler et al. (1979) found that C.lucia was most prolific in a forest stream in Lam Pi, Central Peninsular Thailand. This would seem a typical biotope as, 'Ubi'; although an air-breather, and also known to subsist in the acid Malayan Blackwaters ( Johnson 1967), prefers cleaner, more strongly flowing water, over a sand/gravel bed. Here the water chemistry has a pH 6.0-7.2, a total hardness (dH) of 0.13-1.20 and a temperature of 26 C. Apart from the small fishes found in the stream, (in places 40 cm deep) prawns (Macrobrachium) of all sizes were present and these would presumably make up the fishes' diet.

In conclusion, to emulate the natural enviroment of this Snakehead, a largish tank, fitted with either a robust internal or outside power filter is needed.