Spotted Garden Eel0
Seen often but very seldom do you see them this close let alone Photograph them. Those of you who have tried to get close KNOW just how difficult and frustrating it is to get close. Before they sink into their burrows.
Photo By Ryan Photographic. Heteroconger hassi Spotted garden eels, Kri Eco, Raja Ampat. Canon 40D, 60 mm macro and Ikelite Underwater Systems.
From far away, colonies of garden eels look like a field of swaying seagrass. Moving closer, the ‘seagrass’ often disappears. There may be hundreds and even thousands of eels living together in a colony.
Like a slim straw, spotted garden eels can be up to 16 inches (40 cm) long, although you may never see more than a quarter of their body. They get their name from all the tiny odd-shaped spots covering the body, including three large solid black spots of which only two are generally seen. Large yellow eyes make it easy for the spotted garden eel to spot its tiny food floating in the current.
Tightening its very muscular body to make itself rigid, a garden eel drives its pointy tail deep into the sandy sea floor. The skin in the tail contains a hard substance, so it isn’t hurt. Once the eel is deep enough, it wiggles its dorsal fin, pushing sand out of the hole. Slime from their skin cements the walls of their burrows, preventing cave-ins. Like many other reef animals, garden eels escape from predators by diving tail-first into reef-bottom burrows. When they’re not hiding, these fish sway in the current like blades of seagrass. Each eel lives in a single burrow, which they rarely ever leave.
Spotted Garden Eels live in colonies on the sand flats and slopes that border coral reefs at depths of 23 to 150 feet (7 to 45 m). Strong currents sweep through these areas, which have lots of sand, crushed coral and tiny mollusk shells. Spotted garden eels will also be found in areas densely populated with seagrass. Living among the seagrass blades makes it easy for these eels to blend in.
Hundreds of spotted garden eels will live together in a colony. The largest colonies, which can include over 1000 eels, are in areas where the current is quick and the sand is deep. The largest males live in the center of the colony, positioning themselves in the best areas to make a home and get food.
Spotted garden eels are found in the warm parts of the Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea.
Garden eels are sexually dimorphic, which means the males and the females look very different. The male’s jaw sticks out further than the females and they are much bigger.
Heading into mating season, males and females move their burrows closer together. Once a male picks a female to mate with, he defends her, keeping other males away. The male strikes at and even bites the head of any brave competitors.
After mating, garden eels release the fertilized eggs into the current—which means they are pelagic spawners. The eggs float in the epipelagic zone or the zone in the open ocean near the surface. Here the eggs hatch out and the larvae float along until they reach a certain size. After they are large enough, the young garden eels swim down and make a burrow of their own.