Family: OPHICHTHIDAE, Viper Eels, Spoon-Nose Eels, Sand Eels, Sailfin Eels, Worm Eels, Ridgefin Eels, Finless Eels, Snake Eels
SNAKE EELS, FINLESS EELS, RIDGEFIN EELS, WORM EELS, SAILFIN EELS, SAND EELS, SPOON-NOSE EELS, VIPER EELS
Snake-eels, which vary greatly in size (0.5-2.5 m), have a typical eel-shaped body that is more or less rounded in cross section; the eyes are usually small and situated just above the mouth; the snout is often pointed or nearly so, and frequently overhangs the lower jaw; the nostrils are widely separated, the front nostril normally tubular, the rear nostril usually within or piercing the upper lip; the gill openings occur on mid-side to underneath the body, and the gill pouch is expanded and reinforced by rays; the pectoral fins are present or absent; dorsal and anal fins present or absent; the tail tip is either hard, finless and pointed or the tail fin is conspicuous and confluent with the dorsal and anal fins; the body is scaleless; lateral line complete, often well developed pores on head as well as body, lines of each side of head connected by 2 canals across top of head, front canal usually with a central pore atop head.
Although very common, snake-eels are seldom seen because they spend most of the time buried in the sand or mud. The pointed snout is used for burrowing; in addition, many species have a bony, sharp tail and are equally adept at burrowing backwards and forwards. The diet of snake-eels usually consists of small fishes, crabs and shrimps.
This large family is distributed in all tropical and temperate oceans. There are 58 genera and more than 290 species, with 43 shallow living species in 18 genera in our region.
PREPARED BY D ROSS ROBERTSON, AFTER SMITH (2002)