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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrate > fishes > Family Ophichthidae
Muraenichthys sp.
Family Ophichthidae
updated Oct 2016
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 disappears quickly into some crevice or hiding place.

Features: To about 20cm long, those seen were about 10-12cm. A worm-eel indeed resembles a worm, with a long tubular body. It lacks scales and pectoral fins. It is adapted for burrowing in sand. The 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.

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.

Status and threats: Worm-eels are not listed as among the threatened animals of Singapore. However, like other creatures of the intertidal zone, they are affected by human activities such as reclamation and pollution.

Sentosa, Aug 04

Has no pectoral fins.

The tail tip is sharp and bony.

Worm eels on Singapore shores

Photos of Worm eels for free download from wildsingapore flickr

Distribution in Singapore on this wildsingapore flickr map

Worm eel caught a small fish!

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

Beting Bemban Besar, May 11

Photo shared by Russel Low on facebook.

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

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

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


Pulau Senang, Jun 10

Pulau Senang, Jun 10

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

Pulau Pawai, Dec09

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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