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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrate > fishes
Worm-eels and Snake-eels
Family Ophichthidae
updated Sep 2020
if you learn only 3 things about them ...
Often mistaken for snakes or worms, they are fish! They breathe through gills.
They have smooth skin instead of scales.
Most are burrowing and only active at night.

Where seen? These worm-like fishes are often seen near coral rubble where there are lots of hiding places, especially on our Southern shores. Larger snake eels sometimes also seen, especially at night.

What are worm eels? Worm-eels and snake-eels belong to the Family Ophichthidae, which belongs to the Order Anguilliformes (True eels). According to FishBase: the family has 52 genera and 250 species. They are found in tropical to warm temperate seas.

Features: 20cm-2.5m long, these fishes have a tubular body. They lack scales. Some species have pectoral fins, others don't. The head and tail are pointed and they are adapted for burrowing. They swim by moving the body in S-shapes, rather like a sea snake. In fact, some day-hunting snake eels mimic sea snakes.

Sometimes mistaken for worms or sea snakes. Here's more on how to tell apart sea snakes, eels and eel-like animals.

What do they eat? Most species are burrowing. They hunt fishes, octopus, squids and cuttlefishes and crustaceans.

Some Worm-eels and Snake-eels on Singapore shores

Family Ophichthidae recorded for Singapore
from Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore.
**from WORMS

  Family Ophichthidae awaiting identification
  Mangrove snake-eel

  Family Ophichthidae
  Caecula lumbricoides

sp. (Worm-eel)
Muraenichthys macropterus=**Scolecenchelys macroptera

Ophichthus apicalis
(Blunt-nose snake eel)
Ophichthus cephalozona
Ophichthus celebicus
Ophichthus evermanni=**Ophichthus lithinus
(Evermann's snake eel)
Ophichthus singapurensis

Pisodonophis boro
(Rice-paddy eel)
Pisodonophis cancrivorus
(Burrowing snake-eel)
Pisodonophis micropterus



  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Allen, Gerry, 2000. Marine Fishes of South-East Asia: A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Periplus Editions. 292 pp.
  • Kuiter, Rudie H. 2002. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia: A Comprehensive Reference for Divers & Fishermen New Holland Publishers. 434pp.
  • Lieske, Ewald and Robert Myers. 2001. Coral Reef Fishes of the World Periplus Editions. 400pp.
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