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Eelpouts and Relatives: Zoarcoidei

Wolf-eel (anarrhichthys Ocellatus): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Wolf-eels have a long, snake-like body and reach a length of about 6 feet (2 meters). The background color is blue, greenish brown, or grayish brown. The body and head are covered with white-lined black spots. The scales are small and rounded and embedded in the skin. The dorsal (DOOR-suhl) and anal (AY-nuhl) fins are very long and low; the pectoral fins, large and fanlike. There are no pelvic fins. The dorsal fin is the one along the midline of the back. The anal fin is the one along the midline of the belly. The pectoral (PECKter-uhl) fins correspond to the front legs of four-footed animals. The pelvic fins correspond to the rear legs of four-footed animals. The mouth Wolf-eels hide and live alone or with a lifelong mate in a den. (Illustration by Marguette Dongvillo. Reproduced by permission.) is large and has big lips. The front teeth are like dog or wolf teeth. The back teeth are molars like those of people.

Geographic range: Wolf-eels live along the coast of North America from Alaska to California.

Habitat: Wolf-eels live on deep rocky reefs in caves or crevices. The young live in open water.

Diet: Wolf-eels eat crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins, sand dollars, and snails. The young eat plankton.

Behavior and reproduction: Wolf-eels hide and live alone or with a lifelong mate in a den. They hunt at dusk and dawn but also feed during the day. Wolf-eels grab their prey, or animal hunted and killed for food, with their large front teeth and crush it with their molars.

Wolf-eels form pairs when they are about four years old and first lay eggs when they are about seven years old. In courtship the male repeatedly bumps the female's belly. When the female is ready, the male coils around her. The eggs are fertilized as they are laid in clumps, and the female gathers the clumps up into a ball and wraps around them, turning them once in a while so that they all get enough oxygen. Both parents guard the nest, and one always stays with the nest while the other looks for food. Young wolf-eels swim freely for up to two years then settle on the bottom until they begin their den life.

Wolf-eels and people: Wolf-eel tastes good and is caught by scuba divers and fishermen. Wolf-eels have been known to snap at fishermen and can inflict serious bites on scuba divers who spear them.

Conservation status: Wolf-eels are not threatened or endangered. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceFish and Other Cold-Blooded VertebratesEelpouts and Relatives: Zoarcoidei - Behavior And Reproduction, Wolf-eel (anarrhichthys Ocellatus): Species Accounts, Ocean Pout (zoarces Americanus): Species Accounts - PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS, GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, THEIR RELATIVES EELPOUTS A