Believe it or not this is the name of a fish, not a description. And as usual, the crazier said name is, the less info there is about it!
I managed to glean that it’s another fan of soft, sandy bottoms, and can be semi-transparent or reddish yellow with a black-speckled head and tail. It certainly doesn’t sound maimed, or look it in the whopping two illustrations I stumbled upon, so I have no idea why it’s called the “maimed” snake eel.
But we can certainly speculate based on everything that’s thrown at it.
A small fish living in the shallows is asking for it, and we tend to dig it out or scoop it up with bags before plonking it on sale at the market. If it’s especially wriggly and escapes into rocks, we can do what Mohan did and pour dissolved formaldehyde in there to drive it out. Humans aren’t the only ones who eat it, of course.
Many maimed snake eels go from retail to rod fairly quickly, ending up as bait for other fish, sometimes even sharks, according to the IUCN. Unfortunately, being swallowed isn’t always the end of the story.
Snake eels have a sharply pointed tail which they use to reverse into mud or sand, either to hide or to lie in wait for other fish and crustaceans. A stomach wall is a different matter, however, so if they get swallowed alive, they’re basically that one guy in prison trying to dig his way out with a teaspoon.
In Johnson et al.’ s report in The Guardian, a total of eleven predatory fish were found with intact snake eels in their stomachs, presumably trying to bite their way back out again. Few of them succeeded, sadly, but at least the maimed snake eel isn’t alone in that fight, because multiple species ended up that way. Even humans felt the fallout of this next one, if you’ll pardon the pun.
One of the most in-depth studies I found about the maimed snake eel begins as follows:
This is a descriptive catalog of the fishes collected in the Marshall Islands in connection with, and after, the atom-bomb tests of Operation Crossroads, 1946.(Schultz et al., 1953, p. xv)
Ouch. So not only was our maimed snake eel found near Bikini Atoll and Rongelap Atoll during a load of nuclear tests, but a year after the above study, right where the biggest ever US nuclear device was detonated.
Castle Bravo was a nuke 1,000 times larger than the one dropped on Hiroshima, and at the time of writing, Bikini Atoll still isn’t safe enough for the Marshall Islanders to return. And yes, this is 2020 (don’t we know it).
So after being caught as food, bait, trapped in the belly of larger fish and nuked, how is the maimed snake eel doing?
Despite all the misfortune, it’s considered pretty common. Although I’m sure if it had limbs other than a dorsal fin, it would spend most of its time shaking them at us.
The maimed snake eel is a small, burrowing and shallow-loving fish taken for food and bait. Its family are also known for trying to bite their way out of predators’ stomachs, and it lives in areas hit by atomic testing. I couldn’t find out exactly why it’s called “maimed”, but those seem reason enough!
Latin: Muraenichthys schultzei.
From the Latin muraena meaning “morey-eel” – which it isn’t – and Greek ichtys meaning “fish”. Schultzei is after Jan Francois Schultze, a 19th-century governor in Java who kindly let Bleeker, the discoverer, take a peek at his fish collection.
Where? Shallow tidal pools and waters of the Persian Gulf, India, South East Asia and parts of Australasia. It doesn’t seem to venture further than 30 metres (100 feet) down.
How big? The largest recorded were about 24 cm / 9.4 inches long, but these were females ready to fling their eggs and leave. They’re usually nearer 8 cm / 3.1 inches.
Endangered? The IUCN only assessed the Persian Gulf population in 2014, and it’s listed as Data Deficient due its penchant for hide and seek.
Wow this thing is unlucky. Does it need help?
Not as far as we know. It’s considered pretty common, and in the Persian Gulf at least, there are marine protected areas for it to hide in.
Featured image credit: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, via Fishbase.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing
Agence France-Press in Majuro. 2014. “Bikini Atoll nuclear test: 60 years later and islands still unliveable“. The Guardian.
Bleeker, P. 1857. “Descriptiones specierum pisicium javanensium novarum vel minus cognitarum diagnosticae auct.” Natuurkundig tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch-Indië, 323-368.
Boseley, Matilda. 2020. “Snake eels burst through the stomach of predators in bid to escape being eaten alive“. The Guardian.
Cassella, Carly. 2020. “Snake Eels Can Burst Through Predators’ Stomachs, And That’s Not The Grossest Part“. ScienceAlert.
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. No date. “Snake eel“. Britannica.com.
Eschner, Kate. 2017. “The crazy story of the 1946 Bikini Atoll nuclear tests“. Smithsonian Magazine.
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. 1983. FAO species identification sheets: Ophichthidae.
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. 1983. “FAO species identification fact sheets: Muraenichthys schultzei“.
McCosker, John. 2002. “Notes on Hawaiian Snake Eels (Pisces: Ophichthidae), with Comments on Ophichthus bonaparti“. Pacific Science 56: 1:23-34.
Mohan, R.S. Lal. 1965. “The Distributional Record of Muaenichthys schultzei Bleeker from Gujarat Coast“. Marine Biological Association of India.
Mohapatra, Anil et al. 2019. “First record of Muraenichthys gymnopterus (Ophichthidae: Myrophinae) from east coast of India, Bay of Bengal“. Indian Journal of Geo-Marine Sciences 48: 283-285.
Monroe, T. & Feary, D. 2015. Muraenichthys schultzei. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T199204A57162075.
Nelson, J.S. 1994. “Family ophichthidae – Snake eels“. Fishbase.in.
Scharpf, Christopher, and Lazara, Kenneth J. No date. “Order ANGUILLIFORMES: Family OPHICHTHIDAE“. The ETYfish Project.
Schultz, Leonard P. et al. 1953. “Fishes of the Marshall and Marianas Islands“. Smithsonian Institution, United States National Museum.
Winterbottom, Richard. No date. “Muraenichthys schultzei Bleeker 1857 – Maimed snake eel“. Fishbase.