On the afternoon snorkel tour last Friday, a snorkeler observed a ‘snake eel’ in Kealakekua Bay. Apparently this is not an everyday occurrence. Snake eels are rarely seen by humans. You never know what amazing fish you can see on our tours! Alex Paul on the snake eel for All Things Nature.
Snake eels are a family of eels, rather than a specific species, that contains more than 300 types. The family’s scientific name is Ophichthidae, although it is commonly known as worm or snake eels. Usually, the eels are found in warm, tropical waters. Most species live and hide in material at the bottom of rivers or the sea. The size of a snake eels varies greatly, depending on the species, with some growing as long as 10 feet (about 3 meters).
If the cross section of a snake eel were examined, it would be almost circular. Other features include a scaleless body, small eyes and a pointed snout. There is some variation when it comes to dorsal fins, with some species not having one at all. The eels are often mistaken for sea snakes by humans.
Snake eels are found in many places around the world. Anywhere there is warm water will probably be home to at least one species. This is largely due to the eel’s ability to live in a number of different habitats, such as rivers and coastal regions. A snake eel can survive at depths of more than 2,000 feet (around 600 meters), but often live in water much shallower than this.
The species are part of a group known as bottom dwellers. This is because a snake eel will spend most of its time buried in sediment or mud at the bottom of the ocean or river. The advantage of this behavior is that it allows the eels to hide from predators as well as from potential prey. Surprise is a major part of a snake eels hunting habits. A consequence of this is that snake eels are rarely seen by humans, as they spend the majority of their time hidden.
A snake eel’s diet consists mainly of small fish. They are also known to feed off crustaceans. Some eels, however, live largely off plankton. The diet of a particular snake eel usually depends on the size of the species, with larger eels more able to take on bigger fish.
There is some variation in the coloring and patterns of snake eels, according to the species. Although the eels are generally harmless to potential predators, their patterns sometimes mimic those of more dangerous sea creatures, such as sea snakes. This helps the eels to avoid predators.