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Temporal range: Early Eocene–Recent
Myrichthys maculosus.JPG
Tiger snake eel, Myrichthys maculosus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Superorder: Elopomorpha
Order: Anguilliformes
Family: Ophichthidae


The Ophichthidae are a family of eels, commonly called worm eels and snake eels. The term "Ophichthidae" comes from Greek ophis ("serpent") and ichthys ("fish"). Snake eels are also burrowing eels, they are named for their physical appearance, they have long, cylindrical snakelike bodies.[2]

Ophichthids are found worldwide in tropical to warm temperate waters. They inhabit a wide range of habitats, from coastal shallows, and even rivers, to depths of above 750 m (2,460 ft). Most species are bottom dwellers, hiding in mud or sand to capture their prey of crustaceans and small fish, but some are pelagic.[3]

Ophichthid species range from 10 cm (3.9 in) to 3 m (9.8 ft) in length. Many species lack fins altogether, improving their ability to burrow into the substrate like worms. They are often spotted or striped in colour, mimicry the appearance of venomous sea snakes to deter predators.[3] Often, they are washed ashore by large storms.


The family Ophichthidae is the largest and most diverse of the families of eels, containing around 300 species in over 50 genera:

Family Ophichthidae


  1. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2009). "Ophichthidae" in FishBase. January 2009 version.
  2. ^ Goodson, Gar (1988). Fishes of the Pacific Coast: Alaska to Peru, Including the Gulf of California and the Galapagos Islands. Stanford University Press. p. 238. ISBN 9780804713856. Snake eels (family Ophichthidae) are also burrowing eels, and are named for their long, cylindrical snakelike bodies. 
  3. ^ a b McCosker, John F. (1998). Paxton, J.R. & Eschmeyer, W.N., ed. Encyclopedia of Fishes. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 87–89. ISBN 0-12-547665-5. 
  4. ^ McCosker, J.E., Loh, K.H., Lin, J. & Chen, H.M. (in press): Pylorobranchus hoi, a New Genus and Species of Myrophine Worm-eel from Taiwan (Anguilliformes: Ophichthidae). Zoological Studies, (in press)