Garden Eel

Last updated: July 21, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

Garden eel colonies are made up of hundreds to thousands of individuals.



Garden Eel Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Anguilliformes
Family
Congridae

Garden Eel Conservation Status

Garden Eel Locations

Garden Eel Locations

Garden Eel Facts

Main Prey
zooplankton, fish eggs, crustaceans
Group Behavior
  • Colony
Fun Fact
Garden eel colonies are made up of hundreds to thousands of individuals.
Estimated Population Size
unknown
Biggest Threat
predators
Most Distinctive Feature
snakelike bodies partially protruding from the sand
Water Type
  • Brackish
Habitat
marine saltwater
Predators
Pacific snake eel, triggerfish
Diet
Carnivore
Type
fish
Common Name
garden eel
Number Of Species
35

Garden Eel Physical Characteristics

Colour
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Black
  • White
  • Green
  • Orange
Skin Type
Smooth
Lifespan
35-40 years
Length
33cm-121cm (13in-47.6in)

Garden Eel Images

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The garden eel is a type of saltwater eel that includes 35 different species.

These eels spend their lives with at least their tail in the sand at all times. The full body is never completely out of the sand. Some or most of their body sticks out from the sand, making their appearance relative to grass. They are opportunistic feeders who wait for food to come to them in the natural current.

5 Incredible Garden Eel Facts!

  • These eels inhabit holes burrowed into sand.
  • These eels use their tails to dig holes.
  • They have excellent vision to spot their food.
  • Females can change their sex if there are few or no males in the colony.
  • These eels are pelagic spawners.

Garden Eel Classification and Scientific Name

The scientific name for the collective group of these eels is Heterocongrinae. The species comprises two genera: Heteroconger and Gorgasia. These eels are part of the Congridae family which includes conger eels and garden eels. The class these eels belong to is Actinopterygii. There are 35 subspecies of these eels. The name “garden eel” comes from the appearance of a colony, which looks similar to a “garden” of seagrass.

Garden Eel Species

These eel species can be divided into two genus groups or genera. Heteroconger consists of 21 subspecies and Gorgasia includes 14 subspecies.

Some notable species include:

  • Heteroconger hassi (spotted garden eel) – This eel can grow up to 40 centimeters.
  • Gorgasia preclara (splendid garden eel) – They are also called orange-barred garden eels.
  • Heteroconger canabus (white-ring garden eel) – In Mexico, this eel is sometimes called cape garden eel.
  • Gorgasia hawaiiensis (Hawaiian garden eel) – Like its name suggests, this eel is common in the Hawaiian islands.
  • Heteroconger cobra (cobra garden eel) – These eels inhabit the western central Pacific.

Garden Eel Appearance

These eels have big eyes, sharp teeth, and a short nose. Their bodies are long and slim. They have one fin. The size of these eels can differ greatly. Depending on the species, these eels can be between 33 and 121 centimeters long. The colors of the eel vary from one species to another. They can be white, black, yellow, green, brown, orange, gray, or blue. The eel can be one solid color or a combination of colors in a pattern such as banded or spotted. Spotted garden eels, for example, are white with black spots. Splendid garden eels have a banded pattern of yellow-orange and white.

An underwater garden eel colony in the sand off Galapagos islands, Ecuador.
An underwater garden eel colony in the sand off Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Garden Eel Distribution, Population, and Habitat

The estimated population of these eels is unknown. Most species found on the IUCN red list are Least Concern status and stable. The remaining few have a status that is Data Deficient. Most species live in saltwater habitats while some can also inhabit brackish water. These eels do not live in freshwater. A large number of these eels are found in Indo-Pacific regions but can be found in many marine habitats.

You can find various species of these eels in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans as well as the Caribbean sea and the Red sea. They dwell in burrowed sand holes in the seafloor. They generally do not leave their holes, except for a portion of their bodies. An eel will retreat its full body completely into these holes to evade danger.

Garden Eel Predators and Prey

These eels are carnivores. They mainly feed on zooplankton as it floats by them in the ocean current.

What eats Garden Eels

Triggerfish and Pacific snake eels are common predators of these eels. Pacific snake eels are able to burrow under them to capture them. Other animals that may eat these eels are dolphins and sharks.

What do Garden Eels eat?

These eels eat lots of plankton. They also sometimes eat fish eggs and crustaceans such as amphipods and copepods. In aquariums, they are frequently fed some types of shrimp, including ghost shrimp and brine shrimp, as well.

Garden Eel Reproduction and Lifespan

These eels sexually reproduce. Males will defend and protect the female from other interested males and will sometimes become aggressive. The male and female eels intertwine their bodies together to mate. They then perform what is called “broadcast spawning” where the male releases sperm at the same time as the female releases eggs, thus fertilizing them. The eggs float off in the water where the young, or fry, will hatch. Once they are big enough, they will return to the seafloor and make their own holes.

Garden Eel in Fishing and Cooking

It is unclear whether or not these eels are normally fished for. However, they are sold as pets so they must be captured at some rate. The most common species to be kept as a pet in an aquarium tank is the spotted garden eel, though splendid garden eels can also be found for sale.

If you are considering owning these eels, know that the tank needs to have at least 125 gallons of water and 6 to 10 inches of sand. They need enough room to burrow their full body when needed. Do not attempt to fill it with fresh water, as they cannot survive in it. You should also consider the cost of the animals as well as the cost of the necessary equipment. The price of a spotted garden eel ranges from $40 to $80. For a splendid eel, the price can be between $55 and $100.

These eels specifically are not usually eaten, though other eel species are. Some of the most popular eels humans eat are saltwater, freshwater, and conger eels. American eels, Japanese eels, European eels, New Zealand eels, and South African eels are among the most consumed species. Eel is typically served smoked, steamed, or grilled though there are many methods used. Eel meat has high omega 3 and protein content. A traditional Japanese dish called Unadon is probably the most famous dish made with eel. You can find a recipe for this cuisine below, along with an Italian-inspired dish and an American-style meal recipe.

Unadon Recipe – Japanese eel cuisine
Roasted Eel Recipe – Italian-inspired eel dish
Fried Eel Recipe – American-style eel dish

View all 83 animals that start with G

Garden Eel FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are garden eels dangerous?

No, garden eels are not dangerous.

Can you keep garden eels as pets?

Experienced fish owners can keep some species of garden eels as pets. Keep in mind that these eels need a tank that is large enough for them to thrive with plenty of water. It may also cost a lot of money to own these fish. The price to buy them varies between $40 and $100.

What does a garden eel eat?

Garden eels feed primarily on plankton.

Why are garden eels called garden eels?

They are called garden eels because a colony, with its bodies sticking out of the sand, resembles a “garden” of seagrass.

Where are garden eels found?

Garden eels are found on the ocean floor, with part of their bodies buried in the sand.

Sources
  1. Fishbase, Available here: http://www.fishbase.us/summary/FamilySummary.php?ID=62
  2. EOL, Available here: https://eol.org/pages/46561299
  3. Seafood Source, Available here: https://www.seafoodsource.com/seafood-handbook/finfish/eel
  4. California Academy of Sciences, Available here: https://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/ichthyology/catalog/SpeciesByFamily.asp#Paralichthyidae
  5. iNaturalist, Available here: https://inaturalist.nz/taxa/504072-Heterocongrinae
  6. Ocean Conservancy, Available here: https://oceanconservancy.org/blog/2020/06/01/garden-eels/
  7. Life Of Fish, Available here: https://lifeoffish.com/garden-eel-heterocongrinae-care-11-must-know-facts/
  8. Oceana, Available here: https://oceana.org/marine-life/ocean-fishes/white-ring-garden-eel
  9. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterocongrinae

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