Sand eel

Sand eel or sandeel is the common name used for a considerable number of species of fish. Most of them are sea fish of the genera Hyperoplus (greater sand eels), Gymnammodytes or Ammodytes. Many species are found off the western coasts of Europe from Spain to Scotland, and in the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas.

The three genera listed above all fall within the family Ammodytidae, the sand lances. Members of these genera found in other oceans are not usually called sand eels, and species from other parts of the world are known as sand eels are usually less closely related. None of the sand eels is related to the true eels.

Sand eels are an important food source for seabirds, including puffins and kittiwakes.

Flickr - Rainbirder - Back from a fishing trip
An Atlantic puffin with its beak full of sand eels

Habitat

The preferential habitat for sand eels is a seabed floor, with a relatively smooth bottom of gravelly sand; an example of this prime habitat is the floor of the Sea of the Hebrides.

Commercial fishing

Traditionally, they have been little exploited for human food, but are a major target of industrial fishing for animal feed and fertilizer. Increasing fishing for them is thought to be causing problems for some of their natural predators, especially the auks which take them in deeper water. They are also tied as flies to catch fish.

An instance of this was the RSPB report linking a population crash of seabirds in the North Sea to fishing for sand eels. This led to political pressure for the closure of this fishery; the seabird populations subsequently improved.

See also

Ammodytes americanus

Ammodytes americanus, also known as American sand lance, American sand eel, and sand launce, is a small fish in the family Ammodytidae. First described by James Ellsworth De Kay in 1842, it is widespread in the western North Atlantic. Like all sand lances, it has a long, thin body with a pointed snout; mature fish typically range from 4 to 6 in (10 to 15 cm) in length, though some may reach 7 in (18 cm). Its back is greenish-brown, while its sides and abdomen are silvery. It has a long, low dorsal fin (described as "very delicate") which extends along most of its back, folding into a groove at the fin's base when not in use. Its anal fin is roughly the same height as the dorsal fin, and extends over the posterior third of the fish's body. Its pectoral fins are small, and its caudal fin is forked. Its mouth is large and toothless, with a lower jaw that extends well beyond the upper. It typically travels in large schools, spending most of its time relatively near the water surface. It feeds primarily on plankton, though it is known to take small clams and snails from the sea floor, presumably when plankton is scarce. Towards dusk, schools of A. americanus bury themselves in sand, typically from 1 to 6 in (2.5 to 15.2 cm) below the sand's surface close to the water's edge; they avoid rocky areas. They do this to avoid being detected by night-hunting species such as bluefish and stripers.Ammodytes americanus is an important prey item for many species of fish, whales and birds. Breeding roseate terns, a federally endangered species in the United States, feed their chicks almost exclusively on the species.

Apterichtus flavicaudus

Apterichtus flavicaudus, variously known as the Orange snake eel, the Sharpnose sand eel or the Sharpnose snake eel, is a species of snake eel native to the Indian Ocean from the Seychelles to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. It can be found at depths of from 7 to 293 metres (23 to 961 ft) being particularly common in shallow coastal waters with sandy substrates in near vicinity to reefs. This species can reach a length of 80 centimetres (31 in) TL.

Bascanichthys

Bascanichthys is a genus of eels in the snake eel family Ophichthidae. It currently contains the following species:

Bascanichthys bascanium (D. S. Jordan, 1884) (Sooty eel)

Bascanichthys bascanoides R. C. Osburn & Nichols, 1916 (Sooty sand-eel)

Bascanichthys ceciliae Blache & Cadenat, 1971

Bascanichthys congoensis Blache & Cadenat, 1971

Bascanichthys cylindricus Meek & Hildebrand, 1923 (Round sand-eel)

Bascanichthys deraniyagalai Menon, 1961 (Indian longtailed sand-eel)

Bascanichthys fijiensis (Seale, 1935)

Bascanichthys filaria (Günther, 1872)

Bascanichthys gaira (Moreno, Acero P. & Grijalba-Bendeck, 2016)

Bascanichthys inopinatus McCosker, E. B. Böhlke & J. E. Böhlke, 1989

Bascanichthys kirkii (Günther, 1870) (Longtailed sand-eel)

Bascanichthys longipinnis (Kner & Steindachner, 1867)

Bascanichthys myersi (Herre, 1932)

Bascanichthys panamensis Meek & Hildebrand, 1923 (Panama sand-eel)

Bascanichthys paulensis Storey, 1939

Bascanichthys pusillus Seale, 1917

Bascanichthys scuticaris (Goode & T. H. Bean, 1880) (Whip eel)

Bascanichthys sibogae (M. C. W. Weber, 1913)

Great sand eel

The great sand eel (Hyperoplus lanceolatus) is the greater species of sand eel. The maximum size is 35 cm.

Gymnammodytes cicerelus

Gymnammodytes cicerelus, also known as Mediterranean sand eel, sonso in Catalan, and barrinaire or enfú in Menorca, is a fish in the family Ammodytidae. It is the only species of this family in the Mediterranean Sea. It is a species from the family Ammodytidae, the sandlances or sandeels.

It is found over sandy or gravelly substrates in the east-central Atlantic from Portugal to Senegal, including the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands, and into the Mediterranean Sea and eastwards into the Black Sea.Its maximum size is 17 cm. It is highly appreciated as food in certain areas of Italy, as well as in Catalan cuisine where it is fried after being lightly coated in batter.

Indian longtailed sand-eel

The Indian longtailed sand-eel (Bascanichthys deraniyagalai) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Ambat Gopalan Kutty Menon in 1961. It is a marine, tropical eel which is known from the Pacific and Indian Ocean, including India and Sri Lanka. It inhabits river mouths and lagoons. Males can reach a maximum total length of 60 centimetres (24 in).The Indian longtailed sand-eel is of no commercial interest to fisheries.

Lesser sand eel

The lesser sand eel or sand lance (Ammodytes tobianus) is a species of fish in the sand lance family Ammodytidae. It is an elongated cylindrical fish which may be up to 20 centimetres (7.9 in) long.

Longtailed sand-eel

The Longtailed sand-eel (Bascanichthys kirkii) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Albert Günther in 1870, originally under the genus Ophichthys. It is a marine, tropical eel, which is known from Aden to Natal, South Africa, in the western Indian Ocean. Males can reach a maximum total length of 54 centimetres (21 in).

Ocellated sand-eel

The ocellated sand-eel (Lamnostoma polyophthalma) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Pieter Bleeker in 1853.

Oriental worm-eel

The Oriental worm-eel (Lamnostoma orientalis), also known as the Oriental snake eel, the Oriental sand-eel or the finny sand-eel, is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by John McClelland in 1844, originally under the genus Dalophis. It is a tropical, marine and freshwater-dwelling eel which is known from the Indo-Western Pacific, including Somalia, South Africa, India, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Indonesia, Oman, Palau, New Caledonia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and Vanuatu. It dwells at a depth range of 0 to 3 metres (0.0 to 9.8 ft), and forms burrows in sand and mud sediments in estuaries, rivers, and inshore turbid waters. Males can reach a maximum total length of 36 centimetres (14 in), but more commonly reach a TL of 25 centimetres (9.8 in).The Oriental worm-eel is of minor commercial interest to fisheries; it is caught by hand and in nets, and is sold fresh, usually as bait. Its diet consists of invertebrates, small fish and prawns. The IUCN redlist currently lists it as Least Concern, due to its wide distribution and lack of reported threats. It notes, however, that freshwater pollution occurs in its range, and could pose a threat to the species.

Panama sand-eel

The Panama sand-eel (Bascanichthys panamensis, also known as the Panamic sand-eel in Mexico) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Seth Eugene Meek and Samuel Frederick Hildebrand in 1923. It is a marine, tropical eel which is known from the eastern central Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of California, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua. It dwells at a maximum depth of 30 metres (98 ft), and inhabits sandy sediments, sometimes in estuaries and mangroves. Males can reach a maximum total length of 76 centimetres (30 in).The IUCN redlist currently lists the Panama sand-eel as Least Concern, due to a lack of major threats and observed population decline. It notes, however, that coastal development in its range could prove problematic for the species.

Raitt's sand eel

Raitt's sand eel (Ammodytes marinus), also known as the lesser sand eel, is a small semi-pelagic ray-finned fish found in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Raitt’s sand eel is member of the family Ammodytidae which includes all 31 species of sand eels, often referred to as sand lances. Contrary to their name sand eels, including Raitt’s sand eel, are not true eels and instead belong to the order of “weever-like” fishes, the Trachiniformes.

Round sand-eel

The Round sand-eel (Bascanichthys cylindricus) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Seth Eugene Meek and Samuel Frederick Hildebrand in 1923. It reaches a maximum length of around 88 cm. It is distributed throughout the Eastern Central Pacific; inhabiting shallow, sandy bottoms.

Sharpnose sand-eel

The Sharpnose sand-eel (Ichthyapus acuticeps) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Keppel Harcourt Barnard in 1923, originally under the genus Sphagebranchus. It is a marine, subtropical eel which is known from Zululand and Durban in South Africa, in the western Indian Ocean. Males can reach a maximum total length of 40 centimetres (16 in).

Short-maned sand-eel

The Short-maned sand-eel (Phaenomonas cooperae) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Geoffrey Palmer in 1970. It is a marine, tropical eel which is known from the Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea, the Aldabra Islands, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Marquesan Islands. It is known to dwell at a depth of 60 metres (200 ft), and leads a benthic lifestyle. Males can reach a maximum total length of 59 centimetres (23 in).

Smiling snake-eel

The smiling snake-eel (Ichthyapus selachops, also known as the smiling sand eel) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by David Starr Jordan and Charles Henry Gilbert in 1882, originally under the genus Apterichthys. It is a marine, tropical eel which is known from the eastern central and southeastern Pacific Ocean, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and Mexico. It dwells at a maximum depth of 30 metres (98 ft), and inhabits sediments of sand. Males can reach a maximum total length of 41 centimetres (16 in).Due to its wide distribution, lack of known threats, and lack of observed population decline, the IUCN redlist currently lists the Smiling snake-eel as Least Concern.

Sooty sand-eel

The Sooty sand-eel (Bascanichthys bascanoides) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Raymond Carroll Osburn and John Treadwell Nichols in 1916. It is a marine, tropical eel which is known from the eastern central Pacific Ocean, including Costa Rica and Mexico. It is known to dwell at a maximum depth of 20 metres (66 ft), and inhabits sand sediments. Males can reach a maximum total length of 77 centimetres (30 in).Due to a lack of known major threats to the species, the IUCN redlist currently lists the Sooty sand-eel as Least Concern.

Thin sand-eel

The thin sand-eel (Yirrkala tenuis) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Albert Günther in 1870, originally under the genus Ophichthys. It is a tropical, marine and freshwater eel which is known from the western Indian Ocean, including the Red Sea, South Africa, Mauritius and Réunion. Males can reach a maximum total length of 53 centimetres (21 in).

Vulture sand eel

The Vulture sand eel (Ichthyapus vulturis, also known as the Vulture eel) is an eel in the family Ophichthidae (worm/snake eels). It was described by Max Carl Wilhelm Weber and Lieven Ferdinand de Beaufort in 1916, originally under the genus Sphagebranchus. It is a marine, tropical eel which is known from the Indo-Pacific, including Mascarenes, Pitcairn, Japan, Australia, Micronesia, and Easter Island. It dwells in inshore waters at a depth range of 2 to 18 metres (6.6 to 59.1 ft), and forms burrows in soft, sandy sediments.The Vulture sand eel's diet consists of bony fish.

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