Animal Species:Serpent Eel, Ophisurus serpens (Linnaeus, 1758)

The Serpent Eel is one of the longest eel species growing up to 2.5 m in length. They are usually seen by divers with just the head protruding from the substrate.

A Serpent Eel at Clifton Gardens, Sydney

Erik Schlögl © Erik Schlögl

Standard Common Name

Serpent Eel

Identification

The Serpent Eel has an extremely elongate body. The long, slender jaws extend posteriorly beyond the eye. The species has pectoral fins, but lacks scales, pelvic fins and a caudal fin. It is sandy brown to olive green above and silvery to pale below. The head pores are black.

Size range

It can grow to 2.5 m in length.

Distribution

The species is recorded from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe and the Eastern Atlantic. In Australia it is known from marine waters of southern Queensland around the south of the continent and north to the south-west coast of Western Australia.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Click on the map for detailed information.  Source: Atlas of Living Australia.

Ophichthus serpens

Distribution by collection data

Ozcam map of Serpent Eel specimens in the Australian Museums.

What does this mean?

Habitat

Serpent Eels burrow in sandy and silty bottoms. Adults live in offshore sediments but young are found in coastal waters and estuaries. Divers most often see just the head protruding from the substrate.

Classification

Species:
serpens
Genus:
Ophisurus
Family:
Ophichthidae
Order:
Anguilliformes
Class:
Actinopterygii
Subphylum:
Vertebrata
Phylum:
Chordata
Kingdom:
Animalia

What does this mean?

References

  1. Edgar, G.J. 1997. Australian Marine Life: the plants and animals of temperate waters. Reed Books. Pp. 544.
  2. Castle, P.H.J. in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & R.H. Kuiter (Eds). 1994. The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. State Print, Adelaide. Pp. 992.
  3. Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Swainston Publishing. Pp. 180.
  4. Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433.
  5. Kuiter, R.H. 2000. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Gary Allen. Pp. 437.

 


Mark McGrouther , Collection Manager, Ichthyology
Last Updated:

Tags fish, ichthyology, Serpent Eel, Ophisurus serpens, sandy bottom, Ophichthidae, eel, one of longest eel species, > 2m, long and skinny, lacks scales, sandy brown, olive, olive-green, pale underside, dots/spots, coastal water, estuaries, offshore sediments,