This “sea monster” is an important reminder that we know more about the Moon, Mars, and even Saturn, than we know about the creatures inhabiting Earth’s oceans and sharing this planet with us.
If you are a frequent user of Twitter, then you may have seen tweets about a mysterious lump of flesh that Preeti Desai, a science communicator with the Audubon Society, discovered washed up on the beach near the coastal town of Texas City, Texas. Although this marine creature resembled a large and poorly-made sausage, its mouth was well-stocked with pointy, menacing teeth.
I contacted Twitter’s resident fish ID guru, Benjamin Frable, Collection Manager of Marine Vertebrates at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD, and he kindly filled me in on this creature’s likely identity and shared the story about how he and his colleagues arrived at this ID.
“Adam [Summers] posted the pics on a facebook group of ichthyologists quizzing each other on identifications (nerdy, I know),” Mr. Frable replied in email.
“I recognized it pretty quickly as an eel. We get quite a lot of moray eel wash-ups here and they’re pretty horrifying-looking, too.”
After he learned that the fish was beached on the Texas coast, Mr. Frable suspected this could be a snake-eel, a member of a family of cylindrically-shaped burrowing fishes found in tropical seas with sandy or muddy floors. These fish live in burrows in both marine and brackish waters between 33–91 meters (100–300 feet) in depth, and dine on a variety of careless bony fishes and crustaceans.
“Apparently, the tongue of this fish is developed into a fleshly lure to attract prey to their horrible mouth!” Mr. Frable added, clearly finding delight in sharing the macabre details of this fish’s feeding habits.