The Ocellated Snake Eel ( Myrichthys maculosus) is also known as the Ocellate Snake Eel,Tiger Snake Eel, Leopard Eel and Magnificent Snake Eel. They are fairly common in Tanzanian waters.
The Ocellated Snake Eel has dark spots on a cream-coloured background with a dorsal fin that runs back across the body from behind the head. The fin is usually kept lowered and the tip of the tail is sharp and finless. The pattern of the spots changes as the eel ages. Juveniles under 25 cm in length have a single row of spots on the top of the body. Between 25 cm and 50 cm they have spots along the side with alternating spots on the top of the body. Over 50cm in length they have two or three rows of spots on the top of the body and several rows of smaller spots along the sides.
They have downward and outward protruding nostrils allowing them to swim quickly across the bottom searching for prey with the sense focused downwards onto the substrate. The slightly outward protruding nostrils allow greater accuracy in finding prey. The eyes are relatively small and their eyesight is not good.
IN THE WILD
They also have the ability to burrow under and through sand. If a diver or any threat approaches too close to them they usually retreat into a hole or burrow into the sand using their tail. In Tanzanian waters one quite often encounters them feeding across the reef during the day. They search the reef and sandy areas in-between the reef for food and when doing so are often oblivious to predators or divers. Only if one comes too close will they go into hiding.
Heemstra notes that they are sometimes found mummified in the body cavities of larger fish, seemingly having been swallowed whole and then using their sharp pointed tail to burrow out of the stomach. Recently further evidence of this has emerged from Australia.
They occur in marine tropical waters of the Indo-West Pacific from the Transkei coast in South Africa to Kenya across the Indo Pacific not including Hawaii and the Leeward Islands.
Ocellated snake eels feed mainly on small fish and crustaceans. Prey is swallow whole as a rule but they have two rows of small blunt teeth. Their sense of smell is their main hunting tool and they have poor eyesight.
Very little seems known on their mating habits other than they are oviparous.
They are seldom encountered in the aquarium trade but are sometimes seen in public aquariums. They are reportedly easy to care for but are very good at escaping from tanks.
OCELLATED SNAKE EEL CLASSIFICATION
- The Reef Guide fishes, corals, nudibranchs & other invertebrates: East and South Coasts of Southern Africa by Dennis King & Valda Fraser