Banded Garden EelPOTW August 21, 2017
This week’s POTW is one that I consider a rare treasure for underwater photographers. It is a shot of a banded garden eel, Heteroconger polyzona. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that any decent shot of any species of garden eel is somewhat special as these often-seen eels are usually extremely wary and more than just a little difficult to get close to. Enough of patting myself on the back! The point I really want to make is that I got lucky, and was able to take advantage of my good fortune. And I appreciate the opportunity to share the image with you and other readers of the POTW column.
Collectively speaking, garden eels are described in the family Congridae, a grouping comprised of approximately 150 species (some sources list as many as 180 species) described in three subfamilies. This grouping includes the species we commonly refer to as conger eels.
Commonly shared congrid features include a laterally compressed body, short snout with the mouth at the front of the snout, large lips, single, long continuous fin on the top of the body, lack of scales and the possession of paired pectoral fins. In most cases congrid eels can be distinguished from the more “high profile” and commonly seen moray eels by noting that most congrids possess the pectoral fins lacking in morays and have a noticeably more rounded heads.
Residing in burrows of their own construction, garden eels are shy colonial “now you see them, now you don’t” sand dwellers that can embarrass you when you eagerly pull your diving buddy away from one subject to point them out as these eels are quick to disappear into their burrows when disturbed or feeling threatened. When undisturbed garden eels raise their head and much of their body out of their burrow and they face into the current so they can pick planktonic organisms out of the water column.
When approached, garden eels almost always withdraw tail first into their burrow. Their tail is pointed, and the skin in the tail is hardened. When creating a burrow, garden eels tighten their muscular body to make themselves rigid, and then they drive their tail into the sand. When a garden eel is satisfied that its burrow is deep enough, the animal wiggles its dorsal fin to push sand out of its new home. Mucus from the skin of the eels cements the sidewalls of the burrow to prevent cave-ins.
An Indo-West pacific species, the banded garden eel prefers shallow water in areas where the a mostly sand or silt bottom is adjacent to or near a reef. Like other garden eels, banded garden eels inhabit self-made burrows, and they usually live in male/female pairs that have burrows that are less than 12 inches from each other. Those “paired burrows” are usually three to four feet away from the burrows of neighboring male/female pairs.
I hope you enjoy this week’s POTW!
See you next week,