The ocean is full of exotic creatures. Among them is an oddly shaped eel with a large mouth that can swallow prey larger than them.
The pelican eel, known as the pelican eel and scientifically known as Eurypharynx pelecanoides, is a mysterious fish that lives in the deep oceans of tropical and temperate regions around the world. According to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the fish lived at a depth of about 500 to 3,000 meters and lived about 390 million years ago, and may have been the earliest human ancestor.
Joel Llopiz, an aquatic oceanographer and juvenile ecologist at Woods Hole, shared that the fish’s intriguing feature is its huge mouth, which can be opened vertically like a spoon, upright 90 degrees. This allows the fish to swallow prey larger than it is. However, pelican eels also have a very elastic stomach that can hold relatively large amounts of food.
When the pelican eel finds its prey, it opens its mouth like a balloon, forming the shape of a giant web-like bag. With a hungry stomach, the fish can eat a bunch of small crustaceans, squid and even seaweed at once.
According to Llopiz, this “wide” mouth is about a quarter of the fish’s body length. The deeper the ocean, the less marine life there is, so this unsightly mouth is also a very useful hunting weapon, and the pelican eel can hunt a wide range of different prey in ecosystems with few food sources.
Pelican eels can only grow to over 1 meter long. Originally, the fish was named after the pelican, but today it is also known as the eel, pelican fish, pelican eel or umbrella mouth fish, each referring to the “giant” in the mouth, which is impressive.
The pelican eel has an elongated body with a bright device at the tip of its tail. Its eyes are small but close to the nose. Their huge jaws consist of many rows of small teeth. Their dorsal fins are usually black with some white lines or slits on the sides. A particular mutant of the genus Eurypharyngidae is the dandelion eel.
During adulthood, male eels undergo changes such as enlarged olfactory bulbs and regressed teeth and jaws, while females do not evolve much.
This eel is characterized by its crossed eyes, followed by bioluminescent structures at the tips of its fins. The function of this bioluminescent organ appears to be unclear, but it may help them attract prey.
The lifespan of this pelican eel is currently unknown, but it spends most of its life searching for a mate. As males mature, they develop larger olfactory organs that help them better detect female odors.
Interestingly, the males also lose their small teeth at this point, probably because the fish’s body uses all of its energy to lay eggs. The researchers hypothesized that the eels would die shortly after mating.
The chances of seeing this “deformed” eel are extremely low due to the inaccessibility of deep-sea habitats, but the fish is also not immune to threats from human activity.
These threats include climate change, which is affecting the food supply and its temperature in deep-sea habitats. Another possible future threat to eels is fishing.