Among eels, there are very few species with the versatility of the garden eel – Heterocongrinae, as they are commonly known by their scientific name. The garden eel is a relatively small type of eel that lives in the warmer regions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, featuring some unique behavioral and anatomical traits that set them apart from other eel species. Like most eels, this species is carnivores, and one of their unique traits is that they live in colonies. There are a total of 35 types of known garden eels classified in two distinct genera: Gorgasia and Heteroconger.
Garden eels are snake-like creatures with the appearance of a slim straw, and can measure a length of about 40-60 cm. While most species don’t exceed these numbers, there are some garden eel species that can grow up to 120 cm. Generally, you will never see more than about a quarter of their bodies, due to the peculiar life cycles and habitats associated with these intriguing creatures. Garden eels live in burrows, and feature a tough skin and hardened body made predominantly of strong muscles, so that they are able to easily drive their tails into the seabed to carve out their homes.
When it comes to evaluating the various types of garden eel, Heterocongrinae species of each genus have similar behavioral patterns. Generally, their habitats are chosen between the sand flats and the slopes of the seabed, close to locations rich in coral colonies. They are usually found at depths of about 30-150 feet, and due to the strong currents in these specific locations, small coral fragments and mollusk shells make them ideal spots for garden eels to form their habitats. Also, reef slopes and sea beds rich in sea grass are a good choice for the garden eel, since it can easily blend in with the sea grass and hide from potential predators.
The best habitats for garden eels are those that facilitate the presence of coral and plankton, particularly due to the fact that plankton are eels’ main food source. Warmer regions, such as the Caribbean Sea as well as the rich, stable coral reef formations of the Red Sea are among the places where you are most likely to find colonies of garden eels. When examining the garden eel, Heterocongrinae experts also claim that the species is most often found in the Indo-Pacific; however, they are quite common in the waters of the North Atlantic as well.