When my supplier told me he had some platinum snakeheads, I immediately went to his facilities to check them out. Indeed they were “very white”―in fact, a shiny white, as expected.

The next question was, how much? In aquarium keeping, there are some fish that develop a platinum morph that rarely happens in nature. These are fish that lack a certain pigmentation that causes them to turn white; this is very different from the colors they naturally have. For avid fishkeepers, a ‘platinum’ fish is a rarity, highly desirable and very expensive.

To my surprise, it was reasonably priced so I got the whole lot. But a lot of questions were baffling me because I have kept about 20 species of snakeheads from the genera Channa and Parachanna, but I have never encountered a platinum snakehead.

So upon reaching home and getting the fish settled, I texted two of my friends who could best clarify my questions: Kido Soon and Noli Chan. These guys have over 40 years of fishkeeping experience between them and are avid collectors of rare and exotic fish.

A Question of Identification

When they arrived, they too were amazed at what I had in the tank. The whole afternoon was spent trying to find out which species of snakehead the fish were. It was definitely a Channa and not a Parachanna since the supplier told me it came from China. We were all in agreement that it was a Channa species because all Asian snakeheads fall under the genus Channa and all African species are from the genus Parachanna.

So the first step in identifying the platinum snakehead has been covered, but as for which species of Channa it was, at this point was still a big mystery as there may be over 50 species of Channas in existence.

After much deliberation during the day, the choices were down to two: A platinum morph of the Channa striata, or a ‘platinum snakehead’, which we had come across in some fish forums (and whose name none of us could pronounce).

Channa striata is widely spread in Asia and in fact is the same species as our ‘dalag’, which is abundant in our local waters. C. striata became a candidate as we had seen albino morphs of this in the aquarium. Thus, a platinum morph of this species was quite possible.

The afternoon ended with the three of us in agreement that it could be either of the two species. We however could not zero in which of the two because we lacked information. So we parted ways knowing very well we had an assignment to do.

After a week of research we met again and continued our investigation with better knowledge on hand. We struck out C. striata as its head shape is rounded as compared to the head of the platinum snakehead, which is pointed. The body shape of the C. striata is also bulkier than the specimen we had.

As for the Channa species whose name we could not pronounce, we were able to do research about it, and our findings pointed us to the species C. argus var ‘Kimnra’. Our specimen was consistent with what we found on the Internet: a generally shiny white body color with some darkening on the dorsal part of the body, a pointed snout typical of C. argus, a few black spots on the face, and the consistent streamlined body shape.

So after a week, we were in agreement that the platinum snakehead was the same platinum snakehead that foreign fishkeepers call C. argus var ‘Kimnra’.

A Relatively New Species

Information about the platinum snakehead is very limited in the Internet as no freely available scientific papers have been written on it. However, some accounts from fishkeepers who have platinum snakeheads are available. The most extensive information is from a fish farm, as these fish are actually farmed in China for food, but alas, the literature is in Chinese and I can only relate to the pictures from the literature.

C. argus or the northern snakehead is a large fish found in China, Korea, and Russia. It is one of the largest species of snakehead, with size of a meter and over 10 kilograms having been recorded. The natural color of this fish is light brown with dark blotches on the body. It is way too different from the shiny white platinum snakehead.

Currently, the platinum snakehead is identified as a variant of the C. argus. It is not a platinum morph of the C. argus but rather, a variant that has a different color compared to the typical C. argus. Since it is also being farmed for food, there must be millions of these in that part of China, so there may be support for the idea that it is not a rare platinum morph. Only scientific research can help prove if these two fish are different species, so until further studies can confirm if the platinum snakehead is a distinct species, we might as well call it the C. argus var ‘Kimnra’. This is the internationally accepted species name of the platinum snakehead as far as fishkeepers are concerned.

The platinum snakehead is a relatively new fish in the fishkeeping hobby. It first made its appearance in the international aquarium scene barely a year or two ago. Surely it appeared much earlier―maybe more than centuries ago in some remote Chinese dinner plate―but for us Filipinos, it is fairly recent. In fact it was sometime in February this year that I ever saw one for the first time.

Plays Well with Others

I am able to keep the platinum snakehead with other fish that are not too small to be eaten. I have one in a 75-gallon tank with some 7 to 10-inch bichirs, 6-inch wolf fish, and an 8-inch green arowana; everything seems peaceful in this tank.

I have another 10-inch specimen which shares a 180-gallon tank with a 14-inch platinum Endlicheri Bichir, a 12-inch albino knife fish, and a few 8-inch Red Hooks. All is well in this “White Tank.”

I have another 75-gallon tank where I keep the smaller ones. This species tank is successful as well, as all five tankmates are injury-free. There may be a little chasing every now and then, but no bullying happens.

This leads me to believe that the platinum snakehead may be kept in a community setup so long as the tank inhabitants are selected properly. It is far more behaved than the dreaded red or giant snakehead (C. micropeltes), which has the temperament of a serial killer.

Although I have another one, kept in its own 20-gallon tank, which really hates me; when I pass near his tank, he always darts from the far side and tries to bite me!

He will always strike me the very first opportunity he gets. You will hear a thud as he hits the glass cover and he will give you a splash of water. But curiously, he is well behaved when the tank is being cleaned. I am able to scrub the glass and siphon off the dirt without any injuries from him.

Compared to other snakeheads that mostly stay at the bottom to hide and ambush their prey, the platinum snakehead is a swimmer. It mostly stays in the middle portions of the tank, swimming from side to side. Occasionally it swims to the top and bottom portions of the tank when it likes to. Sometimes they even swim to the front of the glass when you come near; just like goldfish, they seem to beg for food every time you are around.

Easy to Feed

When it comes to food, they are not picky. Offering live fish is always a good show. They are fast swimmers and can easily dart across the tank when feeder fish are dropped. They always get to it first. The platinum snakehead will have a feeder fish in its mouth before the arowana or wolf fish will even notice it. Forget the Bichirs; they are timid and will only get their share after the other fish have eaten.

Any meaty food offered is eaten. I have offered it market prawns, fresh fish like tawilis and dilis, chopped-to-size Cream Dory, chicken breast―any meaty food so long as it fits their mouths. The platinum snakehead will always have a round belly during meals and he won’t care less what you offer.

Basic maintenance is required to keep them healthy. So long as a weekly water change is practiced, you will not get into trouble with these fish. Even if the water has turned foul, they can still tolerate the water when other fish may not. They are very hardy and easy to keep.

It is important however to keep the top fully covered and secured. They are excellent jumpers and I have picked up one or two from the floor when I forgot to cover the top. Good thing since they are anabantids, they can breathe atmospheric air, so they can manage being out of the water for some time.

The platinum snakehead is an interesting fish for the monster fish collector. It is hardy, grows to an impressive size, and is quite a unique and rare fish to have. They may be kept with other fish so you can always add one in your community tank, and having one should give you pride and joy. After all, not all fish hobbyists can own one as they are not very common in the hobby.

This appeared as “Channa Argus Var ‘Kimnra’: Searching for the True Identity of the Platinum Sakehead” in Animal Scene’s May 2015 issue.