A pretty strange fish alike eel or is it an alien pulls like 60-70 percent of its body out of the sand to eat is a really interesting creature that I managed to spot at Loro Parque in Tenerife (Canary Islands). The spotted garden eel is widespread fish, that you will find throughout the tropical and subtropical waters of the Indo-Pacific from the eastern coasts of Africa including the Red Sea to Polynesia, and south from Japan to New Caledonia (belongs to France, near Australia).

Spotted garden eel

Spotted garden eel

The Spotted Garden Eel lives exclusively in variously sized colonies on sandy bottoms that are exposed to currents, at depths from 15 to 45 meters. It digs a burrow from which emerges about a third of its body pointing their mouths towards the underwater current to catch drifting food. The eel looks like ancient aliens from a different world. They move slowly with the water with 30-40 percent of its body still in the sand. It uses the sand to hide and it emerges to get food. What a brilliant tiny but important creature for sure.

“As in other heteroconger species, individuals rarely leave their burrow once it is finished, but will shift burrows closer together during breeding season until contact between partners is possible. Fertilized eggs and juveniles have a planktonic period before reaching sufficient size to start living in the substrate.”

White body with Many small black spots
The body of the Spotted Garden Eel is white and covered with many small black spots. The spotted garden eel has three larger distinctive black spots; the first identifies the gills opening and the position of the tiny pectoral fins, the second is located in the central part of the body and the third one surrounds the anus. Juveniles have a very thin black body. My pictures seems a bit too blue, but its because of the pool in Loro Parque. Hard to really change this as I wanted to show the authentic look from outside of the pool.

The eel got some predators, even though it got a quick retreat into its burrow:

“A garden eel’s best defense is a quick retreat into its burrow, but some of its predators, including the snake eel and the trigger fish, have developed creative ways of reaching their prey. Snake eels are known to create burrows directly below garden eels before attacking them tail-first, while triggerfish might simply use brute force to dive into the sand and snatch the eel from its hole.”

The Spotted garden eel was one of the animals that I was a bit amazed with at the Loro Parque visit. Read our trip to Loro Parque here.

WikipediaCalifornia Academy of Science