Channa melasoma

{pronunciation} mel-a-zome-a

Common name:

Black Snakehead, Bekak, (Malaya)

First description:

Bleeker, P 1851
Ophicephalus melasoma.
Vijfde bijdr. ichth. Borneo. Natuurkundig Tijdschrift Voor Nederlandsch Indie. Vol.II; p.424.


This fish is distinguished from other species by its uniform body colouration, arrangement of scales and a shorter anal fin.


D: 37-41 A: 21-25 V: present Ratio: 3.1-3.6




The pigmentation (a preserved specimen in alcohol) of the dorsal and caudal fin is dark, the former splashed with dark lines, the latter displaying oblique banding. The light caudal exhibits a sub-terminal dark band. The upper body colouration is a dark green-blue with oblique blotches, whilst the lower section is a yellowish-red brown, having dark brown spots.

The uniform light brown head has an inconspicuous, dark oblique stripe and the underpart is sometimes spotted yellow.

Juvenile differences in colouration:

Young specimens display a red lateral band from the snout to caudal (Weber & deBeaufort 1922). It is suggested by Tweedie (1949) that the lack of red colour in Malayan juveniles is due to preservation or that the pigment only occurs in fish under 70 mm. With young fish, to a length of 140 mm, a narrow pale bar crosses the caudal peduncle. Smith (1945) mentions this fish is a rarity in Thailand and also confirms the presence of the red lateral line in small specimens.


up to 335 mm.

Sub-species and colour variants:

The Northern Borneo form (Inger & Chin 1955) of C.melasoma has a lower than average dorsal ray count (37-38) and higher than average lateral line scale count of 52-54 .


Ophicephalus melasoma, Ophiocephalus melanosoma, Ophiocephalus baramensis, Ophiocephalus mystax, Ophiocephalus rhodotaenia.

Geographical location:

Known from Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, southerly to the Malayan peninsula and across the Great Sunda Islands (Weber & deBeaufort 1922). More detailed locations can be found in the following :-

Banka: Bleeker (1879).

Billiton: Beaufort (1939).

Borneo: Bleeker (1879); Herre (1933); Inger & Chin (1955).

Kampuchea: Kottelat (1985).

Malaya: Herre & Myers (1937) ; Tweedie (1936) ; Tweedie (1949).

Philippines: Herre (1924).

Singapore: Ng and Lim (1990)

Thailand: Smith (1945), Bleeker (1879).


Unfortunately, juveniles of Channa melasoma are rarely imported ( Pinter 1986) as they apparently would make a suitable aquarium fish, although a robust tank of about 200 litres would be needed. As for food: in Northern Borneo ( Inger & Chin (1955) two specimens of Channa melasoma (105-170mm.) were examined, and inside the first fish's digestive tract was found a crab. An investigation of the second Snakehead's gut came across two ants, crustacean fragments, an insect larva and gravel. With regard to conditions, Ng and Lim (1990) found the fish in swamp forest in well-shaded, slow-flowing streams with clear water, a soft, muddy substrate and a PH of 5.0-5.3.


This fish is said to become sexually mature when it is half grown and on that assumption would be acceptable for breeding in the aquarium ( Pinter 1986. Ng and Lim (1990) observed a specimen among submerged roots in 1m of water with fry nearby in shallow water of 3-8 cm depth.