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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrate > fishes > Family Ophichthidae
Muraenichthys sp.
Family Ophichthidae
updated Sep 2020
if you learn only 3 things about it ...
Often mistaken for a worms, it is a fish!
It has a sharp bony tail to dig backwards with.
This small burrowing fish is easily trampled. Watch your step!

Where seen? This small worm-like fish is often seen near coral rubble where there are lots of hiding places, especially on our Southern shores. A secretive fish, it is usually active only at night. Sightings are usually brief as it wriggles rapidly past and disappears into some crevice or hole.

Features: To about 20cm long, those seen were about 10-12cm. Body long narrow tubular. It is superbly adapted for burrowing in sand and hunting in small holes and crevices. It has no scales, no pectoral fins. Eyes and mouth are small, the snout is pointed and nostrils downward pointing. The tail tip is bony and sharp so it can burrow quickly, both forwards and backwards! It swims by moving the body in S-shapes, rather like a sea snake.

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

Has no pectoral fins.

The tail tip is sharp and bony.

Sentosa, Aug 04
Worm eel caught a small fish!
What do they eat? Most species are burrowing, spending most of their time in the sand and among crevices in coral rubble. They hunt small fishes and crustaceans by smell.

Worm eels on Singapore shores
On wildsingapore flickr

Other sightings on Singapore shores

Labrador, Aug 17
Photo shared by Jianlin Liu on facebook.

Sentosa Tg Rimau, Apr 21
Photo shared by Vincent Choo on facebook.

Pulau Tekukor, Jan 22
Photo shared by Vincent Choo on facebook.

St John's Island, Oct 20
Photo shared by Jianlin Liu on facebook.

St John's Island, Mar 07
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on flickr.

Pulau Jong, Jun 09
Photo shared by Liana Tang on her blog.

Terumbu Hantu, Jul 20
Photo shared by Richard Kuah on facebook.

Pulau Semakau South, Oct 20
Photo shared by Jianlin Liu on facebook.

Pulau Semakau (West), Jan 21
Photo shared by Jianlin Liu on facebook.

Terumbu Semakau, May 10
Photo shared by James Koh on his blog.

Beting Bemban Besar, May 11

Photo shared by Russel Low on facebook.

Terumbu Pempang Tengah, Mar 16
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on facebook.

Terumbu Berkas, Jan 10
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on his flickr.

Pulau Salu, Apr 21
Photo shared by Toh Chay Hoon on facebook.

Filmed at Pulau Hantu, 2008

Eel-egant hunter @ Hantu from SgBeachBum on Vimeo.



  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee, 1994. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. The Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore. 343 pp.
  • 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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