Winter Fishtival: Wolf Eel Fun Facts

Join us for hands-on activities, special talks and opportunities to learn more about the care and feeding of the Aquarium's fish, birds, tide pool animals and marine mammals during Winter Fishtival! Each day we'll highlight a different sea animal and activity. Today the featured animal is the wolf eel. Here are some fun and interesting facts about wolf eels.

The wolf eel is in the family Anarchichadidae (wolf fishes). Wolf eels are not true eels. Only a few deep water species of true eels can be found in Washington waters and none are likely to be seen in Puget Sound. Wolf eels are not the same as true eels because they have pectoral fins behind their head, which is a characteristic of a fish, which is not in the eel family (almost all true eels do not have pectoral fins).

Physical Characteristics:

  • Not a real eel, just a long skinny fish
  • Young are brick red with bright orange and purple highlights
  • As wolf eels age, the bright colors dull and they become shades of grays and browns
  • Head is large and square. Jaws are powerful and equipped with 3 rows of molars across the roof of their mouth and 2 rows of molars on the bottom jaw – used like a nut cracker to crush hard foods like urchins, clams and crabs
  • Can grow up to eight feet long and have 200 spinal vertebrae
  • Males are a lighter grey color and have a fat wrinkly face when reproductively mature – around five years old. Females keep the younger looking more streamlined face and are typically a bit darker in color.

Behavioral Characteristics:

  • Gentle, slow-moving creatures and are often very friendly with divers
  • Inhabit dens, crevices and caves in the reefs
  • Female lays about 10,000 eggs in the den, which take between 13-16 weeks to mature and hatch. They are guarded by both parents who wrap themselves around the egg mass for protection. Only one parent at a time will go out to feed.

Cool Facts:

  • Octopus and wolf eels often compete for den space.
  • Each individual has a unique pattern of dark spots on its head and body. These spots allow biologists to individually identify our different wolf eels at the aquarium.
  • Can live more than 20 years in an aquarium setting
  • Have a thick slime coating on their skin that helps protect them (works like an immune system)
  • Sometimes get “itchy” skin and can be seen swimming upside down rubbing their backs on rocks to scratch the itch
  • Do not have scales like most other fish –their scales are very small and imbedded in their skin giving them a leathery feel and appearance
  • Are shy and retiring, in spite of their name and appearance
  • Cannot hover in the water (lack a swim bladder) – they have to swim to stay off the bottom

Come visit the Aquarium to learn more about the wolf eel at Winter Fishtival. Tomorrow’s featured animal is the puffin!

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