The pelican eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides, is a deep-sea fish rarely seen by humans, though it is occasionally caught in fishing nets. It is an eel-like fish and the only known member of the genus Eurypharynx and the family Eurypharyngidae. It belongs to the order Saccopharyngiformes, which is closely related to the true eels in Anguilliformes. It is also referred to as the gulper eel and the umbrella-mouth gulper. The specific epithet pelecanoides refers to the pelican, as the fish's large mouth is reminiscent of that of the bird.
The pelican eel has also been described as Gastrostomus pacificus, Macropharynx longicaudatus, Gastrostomus bairdii, Eurypharynx richardi, and Leptocephalus pseudolatissimus; despite this, nobody has been able to demonstrate that more than one species of pelican eel exists.
The pelican eel's most notable feature is its large mouth, much larger than its body. The mouth is loosely hinged, and can be opened wide enough to swallow a fish much larger than the eel itself. The pouch-like lower jaw resembles that of a pelican, hence its name. The stomach can stretch and expand to accommodate large meals, although analysis of stomach contents suggests they primarily eat small crustaceans. Despite the great size of the jaws, which occupy about a quarter of the animal's total length, it has only tiny teeth, which would not be consistent with a regular diet of large fish.
The pelican eel uses a whip-like tail for movement. The end of the tail bears a complex organ with numerous tentacles, which glows pink and gives off occasional bright-red flashes. This is presumably a lure to attract prey, although its presence at the far end of the body from the mouth suggests the eel may have to adopt an unusual posture to use it effectively. Pelican eels are also unusual in that the lateral line organ projects from the body, rather than being contained in a narrow groove; this may increase its sensitivity.
The pelican eel grows to about 1 m (3.3 ft) in length.
Distribution and habitat
Relationship with humans
Although once regarded as a purely deep-sea species, since 1970, hundreds of specimens have been caught by fishermen, mostly in the Atlantic Ocean.
- Nielsen, Jørgen G.; E. Bertelsen; Åse Jespersen (September 1989). "The Biology of Eurypharynx pelecanoides (Pisces, Eurypharyngidae)". Acta Zoologica (Oxford: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences) 70 (3): 187–197. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6395.1989.tb01069.x.
- McCosker, John E. (1998). Paxton, J.R. & Eschmeyer, W.N., ed. Encyclopedia of Fishes. San Diego: Academic Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-12-547665-5.