Whether they live in fresh or salt water, eels are fascinating creatures. Some of the strangest and most interesting eels are garden eels, or Heterocongrinae, a group of eels in the Conger family. These little eels are unique in their appearance, their behavior and their habitat.
There are many different species of Heterocongrinae, but all of these eels share a similar appearance, as well as similar behavior. These little eels are very long and thin. They are usually only about a half of an inch in diameter, but can grow to between one and four feet in length, depending on the species. These eels vary in color from gray to yellow to brown, and some species have spots or stripes. Garden eels get their name from their distinctive burrowing behavior.
This species of marine eel live nearly their entire lives in deep, thin burrows. They first choose a sandy area that is sheltered from strong waves. They then create the burrows by tightening the muscles of their bodies, making them rigid. The tail of the eel is then jabbed straight down, into the sandy bottom, and a burrow the size of the eel is formed. The eel’s body also creates a slime coating, which is used to harden and strengthen the sides of the burrow. When they are relaxed or looking for food, garden eels poke their heads out of their burrows and sway in the current. If they feel threatened, they retreat backwards into the burrow, where they are safe from predators.
These eels, which are found in tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans, prefer to live in groups, sometimes consisting of hundreds or thousands of eels. A large group of garden eels looks like a garden of grass, giving the fish their name. They eat a varied diet, depending on the size of the eel and what is available. They are opportunistic feeders, and will eat any small crustaceans or fish that are passing through the water near their burrows.