field guide to the freshwater fishes of singapore

Index of fishes
General parts of a fish
Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
  Family Channidae
Africa, Asia. The snakeheads are characterised by their torpedo-shaped body, large, scale-plated head, and long dorsal and anal fins. Their accessory breathing organ which enables them to breathe atmospheric air, is situated in the upper part of the gill-chamber.
Many of the species do not hunt actively, but wait patiently for small animals like fish, frogs or shrimps to come within close range, and then literally suck these into the mouth. Their jaws and teeth are formidable. Snakeheads usually lavish parental care on their brood, daring to challenge large animals (even man) when their young are threatened. There have been reports of humans being badly injured by the larger species as a result of this.
close-up photo showing jaws
Formidable jaws of
the Toman or
Giant Snakehead
Photo: Francis Lim

Genus Channa

Primarily freshwater fish; oviparous; carnivorous; solitary or in pairs, highly gregarious when young. Channa was previously known as Ophicephalus.

photo of whole fish, side viewCommon Snakehead
Channa striata
Ikan Aruan, Toman Paya, name in chinese characters

90 cm; pelagic. Indigenous, common. Forested and rural streams, canals, drains, ponds and reservoirs.

This is a very widespread fish of considerable economic importance. It is valued for its supposed medicinal value when eaten for it is reported to be good for healing bodily wounds and thus recommended for post-operation patients. In ponds where small fishes are being reared, it is a pest.
photo of fishes viewed from above
School of young
Common Snakeheads
During breeding time, both male and female construct a nest of vegetation in a roundish area in shallow water. The eggs are said to float at the surface, kept within the circle and fiercely guarded by the male.
photo of whole fish, side view
Photo: George Liew
Dwarf Snakehead
Channa gachua
Ikan Bakak, name in chinese characters

20 cm; near-bottom to bottom dweller. Indigenous, endangered. Small forest streams.
One of the smallest and prettiest of the snakeheads, it has characteristically reddish dorsal and anal fins, and a distinctly marked pectoral fin. When out of the water, it is said to jump like a frog.

It was reported to be extinct many years ago, but in the 1970s, there was a report that it still exists in the Bukit Timah area. The authors have since found a small but thriving population in the central catchment area.
photo of whole fish, side view
Dwarf Snakehead showing
red-tinged fins
Photo: Francis Lim

photo of whole fish, side view Young of Dwarf Snakehead
Photo: Francis Lim
photo of whole fish, side view
Photo: Francis Lim
Giant Snakehead
Channa micropeltes
Ikan Toman, name in chinese characters

100 cm; pelagic. Feral, common. Disturbed forest streams, ponds and reservoirs.
In Singapore, the toman, largest of all the world's snakeheads, is cultured in fish ponds and reservoirs, and is an esteemed game fish, for it is a strong fighter when hooked, as well as being an excellent food fish. In some reservoirs and ponds, they can become pests. This large snakehead is to some extent gregarious, sometimes travelling in small packs.
The juveniles are highly prone to school and gather into a tight shoal near their parents. The fish is coloured and patterned differently in the various growth stages. Small examples are sometimes kept in aquaria.
photo of whole fish, side view
Young of Giant Snakehead
photo of whole fish, side view
Forest Snakehead
Channa lucius
Ikan Bujok, name in chinese characters
40 cm; pelagic. Indigenous, endangered. Forest streams and peat swamps.

This forest stream dwelling fish has a distinct series of "porthole" markings on the side and has a more tapering head compared to the other species.

The juvenile fish appear very different from the adults in that they are pale with three dark lateral stripes from head to tail.
photo of whole fish, side view
Young of Forest Snakehead
Photo: Francis Lim

photo of whole fish, side view
Intermediate stage of Forest Snakehead
Photo: Tan Bee Hong
Freshwater habitats
Fishes in Singapore
Amazing Fishy Facts
About the guidebook
From A Guide to Common Freshwater Fishes of Singapore by Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
Published by the Singapore Science Centre and sponsored by BP

@Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and Singapore Science Centre