When a group of deep-sea fishermen off the coast of India reeled in their nets, they thought they had another routine catch on their hands.
But enmeshed in their trawl nets — which had been dragged 1,000 feet under the waves — were five peculiar creatures.
The slimy, serpentine fish, as it turns out, belonged to a previously undocumented species of snake eel, according to a study recently published in the journal Ichthyological Research.
“This kind of deep-sea snake eel (is) very rare, and it does not appear in landings regularly,” T.T. Ajith Kumar, one of the study’s authors, told McClatchy News.
The eels, which measure up to 17 inches, have large eyes, short snouts and yellowish skin. Its small, pointed teeth are arranged in a circular formation.
Subtle characteristics — like black dots on its abdomen and a white pectoral fin — distinguish it from other eel species that dwell in the dark depths of the sea.
The creature was named Ophichthus nigroventralis in a nod to its black-spotted belly. In Latin, “niger” means black, and “venter” means abdomen.
It is now only the second species of deep-sea snake eel to be found near India, Ajith Kumar said, adding that the taxonomy of fish found deep in Indian waters was “poorly studied.”
About 80 species are known in the genus Ophichthus. They’re found in river deltas and reefs and can dive down up to 4,200 feet.
They’re less aggressive than moray eels, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and they use their pointed tails to burrow into the seabed.