Fish's Fans Ask: What's Not to Love?
Snakeheads eat their prey whole, unlike piranhas, which nibble and pick at their meat.
"They're like stomachs with fins," said Chris Phillips, 19, an Anne Arundel Community College student who used to own a cobra snakehead.
At one point, the fish leaped from its tank, and Phillips came into the room and found it lying on the floor.
"It had dust all over it and was about to die, but I put it back in, and it came back to life," Phillips said, still marveling. Not long after that, though, the fish leaped out again, and Phillips couldn't save it. "If your tank's not covered completely, it'll find a way out," he said.
Right before the federal law banned the sale of snakeheads two years ago, the fish store where Sexton and Phillips work received its final shipment of a couple of dozen baby snakeheads. Generally, the snakeheads sold for $6 each -- and they "didn't sell any faster than any other aggressive fish," Phillips said. "But as soon as they were [about to be] outlawed, we couldn't keep them in stock."
The snakehead price doubled, and even then, "they went quick."
It's the perception -- and even hope -- of angry attacks that lure some fish owners to the snakeheads and other "aggressive" fish, like piranhas and arapaimas, a Brazilian fish, pet shop workers said.
Like the snakehead, the arapaimas eat their fish whole, and when Phillips dropped a couple of coin-size goldfish into the tank, the long, tubular fish zoomed straight for the goldfish, effortlessly opening their mouths and gobbling. The South Americans' heads, normally as flat as an envelope, bulged wide until suddenly, the goldfish were gone and their gullets shrank flat again.
It was like watching the Discovery Channel. Live.
Some snakeheads, said Kevin Farrell, owner of Critters pet store in Bowie, "are as big around as a man's leg. . . . They're scary as hell and can eat you out of house and home."
Yet that's part of the attraction.
"They break tanks when they get big. They swim with such force that when they hit the side of the tank, it shatters," Phillips said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
A Consuming Fear for Fishermen (The Washington Post, Jul 4, 2004)
Snakeheads May Be Making Home in Potomac (The Washington Post, Jun 30, 2004)
In Search for Snakehead, Other Fish Get a Jolt (The Washington Post, May 30, 2004)
Snakehead Hoopla Just a Memory (The Washington Post, May 23, 2004)
3rd Snakehead Taints the Potomac (The Washington Post, May 18, 2004)
Full Snakehead Coverage
Map of Snakehead Captures