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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Spotted Garden Eel Heteroconger hassi

These eels spend their lives swaying gracefully to and fro with their heads up in the water and their tails in their sandy burrows. Several hundred fish live together in a colony, or “garden,” looking like evenly spaced plants blowing in the breeze. Garden eels are much slimmer than their close relatives, the conger eels. They are only about in (14 mm) in diameter and have very small pectoral fins. The spotted garden eel usually has two large dark spots behind the head as well as many tiny ones all over the body. It has an upturned mouth that is designed to pick tiny planktonic animals from the water as the current flows by. Colonies of these eels occur only on sandy slopes that are exposed to currents but sheltered from waves. When danger threatens, the eels sink back down into their burrows, using their tails as an anchor until only their small heads and eyes are visible. They are very difficult to photograph underwater because they are able to detect the vibrations from a scuba diver’s air bubbles and will disappear when they are approached.

Spotted garden eels stay in their burrows even when spawning. Neighboring males and females reach across and entwine their bodies before releasing eggs and sperm. Mixed colonies of spotted and whitespotted garden eels sometimes occur.

Spotted Garden Eelzoom image
Spotted Garden Eelzoom image
  • Order Anguilliformes
  • Length Up to 16 in (40 cm)
  • Weight Not recorded
  • Depth 23–150 ft (7–45 m)
  • Distribution Red Sea and tropical waters of Indian Ocean and western Pacific
Spotted Garden Eel habitat mapzoom image