|Spotted Garden Eel
This unusual fish is up to 16
inches long but only about 1/2 inch in diameter.
As its name suggests, its body is covered with tiny
odd-shaped spots. There are also three prominent
black patches -- one surrounding the gill opening
and pectoral fin, the second half way along the
body, and the third surrounding the anus.
Juveniles are entirely black. Males are much
bigger than females. The male's jaw also sticks
out further than the female's.
The spotted garden eel inhabits warm parts of
the Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea from East
Africa, north to Japan, south to New Caledonia
and east to the Pitcairn Islands, and including
the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. They live on
the sandy sea floor bordering
coral reefs at depths of 23 to 150 feet, and will
also be found in areas densely populated with
Garden eels spend almost their
entire life in a self-dug burrow. To excavate
that burrow the eel makes itself very
rigid by tightening all of its muscles and
driving its tail into the sandy ocean floor. It
uses the slime on its body to create a
cement-like substance, stopping the burrow from
caving in. Garden eels live in colonies
consisting of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of
individuals. The largest males live in the center
of the colony, positioning themselves in the best
areas to make a home and get food. When they're
not hiding, these fish sway in the current like
blades of seagrass, hence the "garden"
part of their common name.
To feed, the garden eel extends most of its
body out of its burrow and faces the current. It
then sways back and forth, picking tiny animals
and eggs from the water that flows by. A single
garden eel can eat up to 600 tiny animals in one
Heading into mating season, males and females
move their burrows closer together. Once a male
picks a female to mate with, he defends her,
keeping other males away. The male strikes at and
even bites the head of any brave competitors.
After mating, garden eels release the fertilized
eggs into the current. After hatching, the larvae
float along until they reach a certain size.
After they are large enough, the young garden
eels swim down and make a burrow of their own.
Snake eels dive deep into the sand, far from a
colony of gardens eels. The snake eels then
slither their way underneath the garden eels'
burrows, attacking them from underneath. Large
triggerfish dive bomb garden eel colonies,
digging them out of the sand when the eels try to
genus & species Heteroconger hassi
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