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Ophichthidae is a blanket term for around 200 species of snake eel fishes, all having similar characteristics. The name originates from the Greek words 'ophis', meaning 'serpent' and 'ichthys', 'fish'. These eels usually have a long, snakelike body, albeit they are scaleless. They come in a wide range of colors, patterns, and body lengths, and possess a long, sharp tail which they use to burrow into the soft ocean mud to search for food. Their body can have fins or not, and they are commonly found in striped or spotted patterns to imitate venomous sea snakes in order to drive off predators.
Most species can be found hiding in coral reefs and sandy ocean beds. However, there are a few species that prefer to live in open waters, however, these are pretty rare. They can be found in moderately temperate waters, around tropical and sub-tropical climates. Being a very large family of various fishes, they can be found easily all over the world.
Ophichthidae, or snake eel, is a type of fish that resembles snakes. Unlike snakes, they have smooth, slippery skin instead of scales. Most species do not have any fins, however, the ones which do have the presence of a long, dorsal fin on their back, sometimes with the addition of an anal fin. They come in a variety of sizes, colors, and patterns. The most common being spots and stripes in order to resemble venomous sea snakes.
This eel belongs to the Actinopterygii class, which is a class of ray-finned fishes.
The exact number of Ophichthidae is unknown. Since Ophichthidae is a blanket term for more than 200 species, they are very common and can be found all over the world. They can abundantly be found living in coral reefs and rocky shelves, making it difficult to ascertain the exact Ophichthidae distribution.
Ophichthidae range in waters all over the world. They can be found in shallow coasts and rivers at depths of more than 2,500 ft (762 m).
The ideal Ophichthidae habitat consists of marine tropical waters, and they are found in bodies that are moderate in temperature. They can be mostly found around ocean reefs, burrowing in sandy ocean beds to protect themselves from predators.
Ophichthidae snake eels live in marine colonies, often burrowing together in the sand, using their tail to dig into the ocean bed. They are nocturnal, meaning they stay in their burrows during the day and emerge at night to hunt for prey.
Ophichthidae snake eels can live for up to 20 years. However since there are more than 200 species, there may be variations in Ophichthidae lifespan.
Eels reproduce like other fish, with the fertilization of the eggs taking place outside the female's body. After the female lays the eggs, the male will spawn over them, leaving them to incubate. The exact number of eggs laid by the female depends on species to species. These eggs then float towards the surface and drift to subtropical regions which provide the ideal conditions for the larvae to grow. The larvae then transform into elvers, which drift to the bottom of the ocean as they mature.
According to the IUCN Red List, this family as a whole has been listed to be of Least Concern.
Snake eels can refer to a number of species, all differing in length, color, and pattern. The defining features of this family are their long, cylindrical bodies with sharp, pointy tails. They have small round eyes which can be on the sides of the head or on the front. They have porous, smooth skin, and gills which they use to breathe. They usually have long dorsal fins which start from their head and extend along their whole body, and often have an anal fin as well. They have elongated nostrils which look like fangs, completing the faux sea serpent look.
They may be cute or not, depending on their coloring, pattern, and length. Since they often take on the appearance of venomous sea snakes to deter predators, they might not look appealing to the general public. Eels of longer length may look intimidating.
The snake eel cannot communicate verbally. It communicates by discharging various chemicals into the water which other eels can interpret.
There are over 200 species in this family of fish, and Ophichthidae size can range in length from 2-98.5 in (0.05-2.5 m) head to tail.
Though there have not been any conclusive studies on how fast these eels swim, they are swift swimmers due to the presence of their long, dorsal fins starting from behind the head and the ability to move their bodies through the water like snakes.
Due to the large variation in size of this eel family, there is no record of how much Ophichthidae snake eels weigh.
There is no difference in the name when it comes to the male and female snake eel. In some species of Ophichthidae, the eel can change its gender according to its needs.
Baby eels are called elvers.
The Ophichthidae diet is carnivorous in nature. They use their sharp, long tail to dig in the muddy ocean bed or sand to search for crustaceans, small crabs, and fish.
Ophis eels are gentle, docile creatures that prefer to stay in their burrows in the sand. They emerge only at night in order to look for food. They do not unnecessarily attack other fish or act aggressively unless they are hunting for prey, preferring to stay among their colonies.
These eels are better left alone in their natural habitats. There are only a handful of species that might make good pets, one of these being the spotted snake eels. Other species may not be as approachable and have not been studied much. It is wise to stick to admiring them from afar or while diving, rather than trying to keep them as pets.
The name of this family, Ophichthidae, comes by joining the two Greek words 'ophis', meaning 'fish' and 'ichthys', meaning 'fish', which is appropriate for these serpent-like eels.
Snake eels can be differentiated from sea snakes by their skin which is scaleless, and the presence of fins, which sea snakes do not possess.
Most snake eels have terrible eyesight, however have an excellent sense of smell which aids in hunting their prey.
Banded snake eels are considered to be a bit dangerous.
Snake eels, despite being called so, are not actual sea snakes. Sea snakes have lungs and are able to breathe through their skin. However, snake eels merely look like snakes, evolving this way in order to discourage predators from hunting them. They have gills on their head like other fish and are considered eels rather than snakes.
Despite not being having a venomous bite, a number of these species have a type of toxin which can prove harmful to anyone who consumes them. They can be consumed if prepared properly, however, it is advisable to leave any unknown species of this fish off your menu in order to be on the safe side.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other fish from our conger eel facts and electric eel facts pages.
You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable ophichthidae coloring pages.
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