Swamp Eel: Monopterus albus
Body snake-like tapering to a point; small eyes, tiny scales, and finless; typically dark reddish-brown with light tan to orange abdomen, but some are light orange, pink or white, with dark calico-like markings; heavy mucous coating facilitates burrowing nature; secretive and most active at night, but generally considered a 'sluggish' fish; present in Hawaii for 100 years with negligible effects on native species.
Abundant in several southeast Florida box-cut canals, and common in Little Manatee River and Bullfrog Creek drainages near Tampa. It was first collected in 1997 and is expected to slowly spread into central and south Florida. However, it is not expected to have dramatic effects on native fishes. Native range from northern India and Burma to China, and perhaps Soviet Union.
Prefers shallow, sluggish, standing, or even stagnant waters and dense vegetation; often burrows or submerges in mud bottoms; can live in waters without oxygen because it breathes air. In native range found in ponds, canals, ditches, rice-fields, and swamps and is reported to survive in moist mud during dry season.
Spawning Habitats: Spawns in summer; some reports indicate it is a bubble nest builder species, others say uses burrows for egg incubation; ripe female typically contains about 440 ready to spawn eggs; hermaphroditic-- all mature as females, and some of these females later become males; most populations have highly skewed sex ratio dominated by females.
Feeding Habits: Feeds primarily on small fishes, crayfish, grass shrimp, and worms; due to mouth width, the largest food a 30-inch swamp eel can eat is about the same as what a 9-inch largemouth bass can eat; due to mouth size, weak swimming attributes, and poor vision, swamp eels do not appear to be affecting native fish in canals.
Age and Growth:
Oldest believed to be about 10 yrs; largest collected by FWC was 33.7 inches long and 1.7 pounds.
Good, mild tasting meat; considered a delicacy in its native range.
Image Credit: Diane Peebles