Spotted Garden Eel Facts

Discover spotted garden eel facts about this unique tropical marine heteroconger species.

Have you ever seen straw-like seagrass gently moving in the oceanic current? A closure look may reveal if it is an actual plant or a garden eel! Read on to learn more about the spotted garden eel.

Spotted garden eels are white eels with black spots and a unique anguilliform. They are long and thin, and have circular cross-sections. They live in sandy burrows in the sea and protrude their heads and long thin bodies from the burrow to feed on zooplankton. They retract their heads and bodies into the burrow to hide when they are near predators. They are also referred to as spotted snakehead fish. They live in colonies along coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region's tropical and subtropical deep waters, from East Africa, north to Japan, south to New Caledonia, and east to the Pitcairn Islands, and the Great Barrier Reef (Queensland.)

Learn more facts about spotted garden eels below. You might also like our articles on the turbot and the blue tang.

Spotted Garden Eel

Fact File

What do they prey on?

Tiny zooplankton

What do they eat?


Average litter size?

Egg production is not confirmed in studies

How much do they weigh?


How long are they?

14- 16 in (35 - 40 cm)

How tall are they?


What do they look like?

White body with small black spots

Skin Type

Smooth and slippery

What are their main threats?

The snake eel and trigger fish

What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them

Tropical marine reefs


The Indo-Pacific Ocean, northwestern Australia to the Red Sea and East Africa





Scientific Name

Heteroconger hassi





Spotted Garden Eels Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a spotted garden eel?

A spotted garden eel is small fish with a long, thin, and anguiform body. Their head and body have the same diameter.

What class of animal does a spotted garden eel belong to?

Spotted garden eels (Heteroconger hassi) belong to the class of ray-finned fishes, Actinopterygii.

How many spotted garden eels are there in the world?

There are 28 species of the family Congridae and the subfamily Heterocongrinae that are presently recognized in Indo-Pacific and northwestern Australia to the Red Sea and in East Africa. Their exact population size is unknown.

Where does a spotted garden eel live?

Spotted garden eels live in variously sized colonies on sandy sea bottoms in areas exposed to currents, at depths from 23-150 ft (7-45.7 m). It digs a burrow with a tail and buries its body in the burrow, pointing its mouths towards the underwater current to catch drifting food.

What is a spotted garden eel's habitat?

Their preferred and most suitable habitat is warm deep parts of the Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea. They are found on sandy sea flats and slopes that border coral reefs at a depth range of 23 -150 ft (7- 45.7 m). They are found in areas dense with seagrass as this helps to camouflage them within their surroundings.

Who do spotted garden eels live with?

Both spotted garden eels in nature and in an artificial aquarium indicate colony pattern living. These fish do not leave their burrows as their body form is not well adapted for pelagic swimming. They cohabit with other tiny aquatic animals and seagrass on coral reefs.

How long does a spotted garden eel live?

The average life span of the spotted garden eel is 35-40 years.

How do they reproduce?

During mating season, male and female spotted garden eels mate. These eels are pelagic spawners, so females release fertilized eggs into the water and they are drifted away by the ocean current. These eggs then hatch and develop into larvae. Juvenile eels move along with ocean currents until they are strong enough to build their own sandy burrows.

What is their conservation status?

According to the International Union for Conversation of Nature (IUCN), their population is abundant and they are listed in the Least Concern category.

Spotted Garden Eels Fun Facts

What do spotted garden eels look like?

The average spotted garden eel body is relatively thin and its head and body always have the same diameter. This eel is white with many small black spots all over its body. There are three large prominent black patches located on the body. One patch surrounds the gill opening and the pectoral fin, the second patch is halfway along the body, and the third patch surrounds the anus. The head has a large mouth and big eyes. Their nostrils are tiny and are positioned in the center of the upper lip. This eel lives in a colony of hundreds of individuals in sandy areas near coral reefs, at a depth range of 23-150 ft (7-45.7 m).

The Heteroconger hassi head has a snakehead appearance.

How cute are they?

These aquatic animals look like seagrass and are quite cute to look at. They can be kept in a large aquarium with minimal decor in the tank.

How do they communicate?

Hundreds of individual eels live in sand burrows together in a colony but their exact communication method is not known.

How big is a spotted garden eel?

The spotted garden eel (Heteroconger hassi) is thin and long, with an average length of 14- 16 in (35 - 40 cm). They can grow as big as 24 in (61 cm) sometimes and, in general, they are two times bigger than Capelin fish.

How fast can a spotted garden eel move?

These fishes are non-migratory. Their thin cylindered body makes it impossible to swim. They make their body rigid by tightening muscles and driving their pointy tail into the sand. When it's deep enough, they push the sand out using their dorsal fin to make burrows and they escape predators by diving tail-first into this burrow. An extended part of their body comes out of the burrow once there are no signs of danger to continue feeding. Each eel lives in a single burrow that they hardly leave.

How much does a spotted garden eel weigh?

The exact weight of the spotted garden eel is not known.

What are their male and female names of the species?

The spotted garden eel (Heteroconger hassi) does not have gender-specific names. They are commonly referred to as male and female spotted garden eels. They are sexually dimorphic, as males and females look different. Males are larger than females.

What would you call a baby spotted garden eel?

Once the fertilized eggs hatch, larvae develop and grow. Baby eels are called leptocephalus (meaning 'thin head' in Greek) and young eels are called 'elver'.

What do they eat?

The spotted garden eel (Heteroconger hassi) has a diet that consists of tiny planktonic animals.

Are they dangerous?

The spotted garden eel (Heteroconger hassi) is harmless, shy, cautious, and not poisonous. They are not dangerous to humans, including to scuba divers.

Would they make a good pet?

Garden eels are the toughest of all fish to keep in a home aquarium. They require high maintenance as their sand must be at least 6-10 in (15.24-25.4 cm)  deep. If the sand is not deep enough they will hurt their tails by trying to drive into the bottom of the tank when forming their burrow. There also needs to be a synthetic current to bring them live food. Lots of space is needed for them to spread out because if the males are too close to one another they will fight. The above factors make garden eels near-impossible to maintain in a home aquarium.

Did you know...

The spotted garden eel has excellent eyesight.

Males are very protective of females.

Mucus secreted from their skin holds grains of sand together like cement, helping them to make their burrow in the seafloor.

Spotted garden eels are classified as 100% reef safe.

How much is a spotted garden eel worth?

If you wish to buy these exotic eels, you might find them in some pet stores and online stores. They cost around $80. These seagrass appearance animals require high maintenance and need to be kept in large tanks.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other fish including the electric eel, or the Moray eel.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our sea eels coloring pages.



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