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  • Christopher Stephens, MSc

When Eel Sightings are "Fake News"

Updated: May 24

Eel Impostors Lurk Worldwide, Sparking False Reports


Not a Real Eel! Penpoint Gunnel, a Perch Relative

Eels may be distinctive, but fish respect no trademark or copyright. Numerous fish have brazenly copied the primitive but time honored body plan of the infamous eels!


There are close to 800 bona fide eel species in the order Anguilliformes, ranging from 2 inch deep sea species to the 13 foot Slender giant moray. The most massive eel is the European

Conger Eel, featured in my favorite fish show, River Monsters™ by Jeremy Wade. These giant eels can reach 10 feet and weigh 250 pounds!


That apparent cross between a shark and a snake, the Moray Eel is definitely the most dangerous eel. Their teeth are concerning to see up close. One victim feeding a moray in Thailand had his thumb bitten off, then surgically replaced with a toe!


"Eels may be distinctive, but fish respect no trademark or copyright. Numerous fish have brazenly copied the primitive but time honored body plan of the infamous eels!"


Enter the first finned faker. Gunnels, like the 8 inch specimen photographed in Nanaimo, Canada by the author are not eels at all but in fact relatives of perch, like the Pumpkinseed sunfish featured in our last article.


Loaches by Linnaeus: Related to Carp, Not Eels

Loaches can also trick the aquatic enthusiast, here illustrated by renowned taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus. These elongated, narrow finned fish masquerade as eels, but are relatives of carp like Koi and goldfish. Ropefish, also called Reedfish are the world's most snake-like fish. Often sought as home aquarium specialties, these African creatures are in the order Polypteriformes and come complete with scales, a body even narrower than a typical eel and tiny, reptilian scales. Fins are a fraction of the size seen on a normal fish.


One of the most infamous and also dangerous phony eels, also featured on River Monsters™ is the Electric Eel. In a high stakes episode, Extreme Angler Jeremy Wade actually lassos an electric eel, then handles it - with rubber gloves. This massive fish can send off a 600 Volt electric shock, a potentially deadly scenario. The Electric eel is actually related to knifefish and has no affiliation with real eels, just a look-alike body shape. In case you wondered, the ever so primitive sea lamprey and its relatives are not an eels either, but lawless and jawless fish that have a parasitic lifestyle. With all these imposters about, finding a real eel can be a treat indeed!



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