Eels are a type of fish that are known for their long, slender bodies and snake-like appearance. However, there are several other species of fish that have a similar appearance to eels, but are not actually part of the eel family.
In this article, we will explore the top 10 fishes that look like eels, including their physical characteristics, habitats, and behaviours.
From the colorful and vibrant Ribbon Eel to the elusive and mysterious Hagfish, we will delve into the fascinating world of eel-like fishes and discover what makes each species unique.
So, whether you’re a marine biology enthusiast or simply curious about the diversity of the ocean’s inhabitants, read on to discover the top 10 fishes that look like eels.
- Scientific name: Petromyzontiformes
- Size: Up to 6 to 24 inch
- Diet: salmon, lake trout, feed on other fish species through their gills
- Weight: Up to 0.6 to 2.5 kg
Lampreys are a type of jawless fish that have a distinctive eel-like appearance. They are found in both freshwater and saltwater environments around the world. The body of a Lamprey is long and cylindrical, with smooth, scaleless skin that is typically gray or brown in color. They can be easily mistaken for an eel.
A major characteristic that differentiates them from an eel in their mouths. They have circular mouths lined with sharp teeth that they use to latch onto other fish and suck their blood, making them parasitic.
They can even grow to lengths of 40 inches and prefer swimming in calm waters.
9. Dragon Goby
- Scientific name: Idiacanthus atlanticus
- Size: Up to 12.6 to 24 inches
- Diet: small invertebrates, algae, insects, planktons,
- Weight: Up to 13 to 15 grams
Dragon Goby, also known as Violet Goby or Eel Goby, is a freshwater fish species that can be found in North, South, and Central America.
They have long, slender, and eel-like bodies, with round heads and small mouths with sharp teeth. Therefore, it is easy for a person to mistake it for an eel.
With a light gray to brown color, but when in captivity they can develop colors such as silvery blue to purple.
Unlike eels, they have long dorsal and anal fins. They can grow up to the length of 24 inches and their size is one factor that makes them look like eels.
8. Eel Tailed Catfish
- Scientific name: Tandanus tandanus
- Size: Up to 19.7 inches
- Diet: Zooplanktons, small insects, shrimps, crayfish, midge larvae
- Weight: Up to 1.8 kg
These fishes have eel in their name and they are bound to resemble eel to some extent. Also known as Tandan or Freshwater Catfish, they come from Eastern Australia, particularly from the Murray-Darling River system. They are named for their long, elongated, tapered, and eel-like tail.
Additionally, these species of catfish have long cylindrical bodies with dorsal fins. They have hard skin with a white underside and dark back.
They have 4 pairs of barbels around their mouth and have venomous dorsal and pectoral fins, unlike eels. They can grow up to 19.7 inches in length and can even grow up to 35 inches.
7. Rock Gunnel
- Scientific name: Pholis gunnellus
- Size: Up to 30 cm
- Diet: small crustaceans, polychaetes, mollusks
- Weight: Up to 2.5 to 15 grams
The Butterfish or Rock Gunnel is a small, elongated fish found in the rocky intertidal zones of the coast of North America and Europe. Additionally, they have flattened bodies that make them look more like an eel. They are typically found in shallow water among rocks and seaweed.
These fishes can grow up to 12 inches in length and have slimy bodies. They have dorsal and anal fins that are similar to that of an eel.
Their colors are usually brown or yellow-green with dark markings on their body. In the wild, they survive by feeding on mollusks, and small crustaceans.
- Scientific name: Sciaenops ocellatus
- Size: Up to 18 to 20 inches
- Diet: crabs, shrimp, and amphipods, as well as small fish like mullet and menhaden.
- Weight: Up to 2.5 to 15 grams
When it comes to fishes that look like eels, Reedfish is a great example. They come from the water bodies of Central and West Africa, particularly the area between the Oueme River and Sangana River.
They are also known by names such as snakefish and ropefish. They have a long body similar to an eel and can reach an average length of 3 feet.
They have a long dorsal fin and an anal fin as well. They have a light under part and their upper bodies have an olive to brown color. Their swimming pattern is similar to eels and they don’t possess pelvic fins.
They swim with their fan-shaped pectoral fins which are different than eels. These fishes can survive in waters with low oxygen content as they have a pair of lungs and can take in oxygen from the air.
5. Aenigmachanna Gollum
- Scientific name: Aenigmachanna gollum
- Size: Up to 6-7 cm (2.4-2.8 inches)
- Diet: small aquatic invertebrates, such as insects, crustaceans, and other small animals found in its freshwater habitat.
- Weight: Up to few grams
Straight from the paddy fields of Kerala in India, the Aenigmachanna Gollum is a unique fish that bears a resemblance to an Eel. With an elongated body, it boasts its brown body with long and transparent fins. It has extremely long dorsal and anal fins which run along its body.
Coming from the Snakehead family, they do not possess pelvic fins similar to eels. They have a small swim bladder and swim in a similar way to Eels. These fishes take in oxygen from the air and can float around in the water with their reduced swim bladder.
4. West African Lungfish
- Scientific name: Protopterus annectens
- Size: Up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length
- Diet: aquatic plants, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish
- Weight: Up to 50 kg (110 lbs)
With long and elongated eel-like bodies, the West African Lungfish swim throughout Africa resembling an eel. These are freshwater species of fish that are unique in that they possess both gills and a lung-like structure that allows them to breathe air. They are particularly found in Western, middle, and Southern Africa.
These fishes have cycloid scales and a pair of long fins. They also possess thin pelvic and pectoral fins and can reach lengths of 3 feet. They primarily have a brown color and have black or brown spots all over its body.
- Scientific name: Atlantic cutlassfish, Trichiurus lepturus.
- Size: Up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) in length
- Diet: small fish, squid, crustaceans, and other marine organisms.
- Weight: Up to 3 kg (6.6 lbs).
Cutlassfish are predatory species of fish that look a lot like eels. They comprise the family Trichiuridae and there are about 45 species of it. They inhabit almost every ocean or sea, but particularly they are found in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans.
They have long and slender bodies and are usually of silver color. Also, they don’t have caudal and pelvic fins, which makes them look exactly like an eel at first glance.
Cutlassfish are highly predatory and have sharp teeth that allow them to feed on a variety of prey, including smaller fish, and crustaceans. They can grow up to 5 feet in length but rarely reach 5 feet, they are usually about 3 feet in length.
They only inhabit saltwater areas and their mouth structure is not similar to eel at all.
2. Pangio Kuhlii
- Scientific name: Pangio kuhlii
- Size: Up to 10 cm (4 inches)
- Diet: small invertebrates like insects and crustaceans, as well as plant matter like algae and small bits of decaying vegetation.
- Weight: Up to a few grams
Pangio Kuhlii, primarily known by the name Kuhli Loach or Coolie Loach are freshwater species of fish that are native to Southeast Asia. Inhabiting slow-moving rivers and streams, these loaches swim around with their elongated body, which resembles an eel.
They typically have a yellow color with 12 to 15 brown or black bands all over its body.
These loaches have small anal and dorsal fins with four pairs of barbels in their mouth. Moreover, they swim in a similar way to eels which adds more to the fact that it resembles an eel.
Also, they are nocturnal species of fish means that they are active at night. In terms of diet, they are scavengers and eat whatever edible they find at the bottom.
1. Bichir fish
- Scientific name: Polypterus senegalus
- Size: Up to 60-80 cm (24-31 inches) in length
- Diet: fish, shrimp, insects, and other small aquatic animals
- Weight: 2-3 kg (4.4-6.6 lbs)
Bichir fish, also known as the Polypterus, from the family Polypteridae are a group of freshwater fish found in Africa. They are characterized by their elongated bodies and primitive appearance, which have earned them names such as Dragonfish, Dinosaur Eels, and Swamp Dragons. These species of fish flawlessly resemble an eel to the point that they can be easily mistaken for eels.
Along with an elongated body, Bichir Fish have a series of dorsal fins that can range in number from 7 to 18 and all of these have double-edged tips. They also have thick scales with a mouth structure that is similar to an eel. In the water bodies, they prefer swimming at the bottom of the ocean.
They also have a unique respiratory system. Instead of relying solely on gills to extract oxygen from the water, they also have lungs made of smooth sacs.
This allows them to breathe air at the water’s surface and survive in low-oxygen environments, such as stagnant pools and swamps.
In conclusion, the world’s oceans and freshwater systems are home to a diverse array of fish species, many of which have fascinating eel-like appearances.
From the colorful and exotic Dragon Goby to the elusive and mysterious West African Lungfish, the top 10 fishes that look like eels are truly remarkable creatures.