Gulper Eel Facts: The Pelican-Mouthed Marvel of the Deep

Deep beneath the mysterious depths of our oceans lies a creature that seems to have sprung straight from the pages of a science fiction novel. Meet the enigmatic gulper eel, a monster of the sea with a massive mouth that is capable of consuming prey much larger than itself. Let’s dive into the peculiar world of this pelican eel and discover some of its fascinating facts.

Gulper eel
Scientific name: Eurypharynx pelecanoides
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Anguilliformes
Family: Eurypharyngidae
Genus: Eurypharynx

1. They have a mouth of a pelican

The gulper eel is one of the most extraordinary and bizarre creatures found in the depths of the ocean. Their appearance is so otherworldly that they have earned the fitting title of “deep-sea monsters.”

What truly sets the gulper eel apart is its gigantic mouth, conspicuously larger than its entire body.

Their lower jaw forms an impressive pouch-like structure, like that of a pelican. That’s the reason why these species are called pelican eels or umbrella-mouth gulpers.

The real gulper eel in the ocean

These deep-sea eels don’t have pelvic fins or scales, their pectoral fins are minuscule and barely noticeable. Their skeletons are diminished, and their eyes are small. Similar to the blobfish, they also lack swim bladders. Instead, they possess a unique kind of kidney known as an “aglomerular kidney.” This kidney is said to store gelatinous material and serve as a substitute for the missing swim bladder.

In contrast to other eels, gulper eels have elongated, slender tails. The length of their tail is remarkable, often leading to intricate knots forming. The tip of this extended tail is adorned with photophores. This bioluminescent organ, adorned with multiple tentacles, emits a soft pink glow, occasionally interrupted by vivid red flashes. Its primary purpose is to lure unsuspecting fish and other prey toward it.

Fun facts about gulper eels

These sea creatures own diminutive eyes, well-suited to discerning faint hints of light. Compared to females, male gulper eels boast larger eyes and olfactory organs. These adaptions help them to detect pheromones released by females during the breeding time.

In terms of its size, the eels can reach approximately 1.5 – 3 feet in length and typically exhibits a dark color, either black or dark green, occasionally displaying a whitish streak or indentation flanking their dorsal fin. It showcases an extraordinary type of ultra-black camouflage, reflecting less than 0.5% of light. This characteristic enables it to elude predators and seamlessly blend into the obscurity of its deep-sea habitat.

2. Gulper eel Habitat

The Gulper eel lives in the seas and oceans worldwide. They can be found in both temperate and tropical oceans, their domain extending from the balmy coasts of Australia to the unfathomable depths of the North Atlantic.

Residing in the ocean’s depths, between 3000 to 6000 feet (915 – 1829 meters) below the surface, these eels inhabit a realm devoid of sunlight, creating an almost pitch-black underwater world. Despite the harsh surroundings, these extraordinary creatures have undergone remarkable evolutionary adaptations, allowing them to thrive in these extreme depths.

3. Diet

Despite the gulper eel’s enormous mouth, which allows them to eat prey much larger than their own size, their primary diet primarily comprises tiny crustaceans like shrimp and other invertebrates. This might be attributed to the fact that their small teeth are not suitable for hunting larger creatures. In times of scarcity, they also eat fish, squids, octopuses, and even seaweed.

These eels possess limited swimming abilities, as their tails resemble whips, and they lack swim bladders, pelvic fins, and scales. They are not well-suited for extensive journeys or pursuing prey. That’s why they have developed a fascinating tactic for capturing food, called lure and feed. They use the bioluminescent organ at the tip of their whiptail as a fishing lure to entice unsuspecting prey.

Gulper eels in the mariana trench

With their wide mouths open, they position the glowing tail near and patiently await the prey to come close. As soon as the prey ventures close enough, the eels swiftly lunge forward and snatch it up with their massive mouth and unhinged jaw. This clever hunting technique is especially advantageous due to their restricted eyesight.

In addition to passively waiting for food to come their way, gulper eels showcase their prowess as active hunters. Methodically stalking their prey, they cleverly inflate their heads like a ballon before launching swiftly and precisely attacking it. This is also a way for these fish to protect themselves as they look bigger, deterring potential predators.

Yet, even with their remarkable hunting skills, these carnivores are not exempt from encountering dangers. Among the perils that lurk in the deep sea, the lancetfish stands out as their primary predator.

4. Reproduction

The mating behavior of gulper eels remains shrouded in mystery, with limited information available. Just like their eel counterparts, these enigmatic creatures begin their life cycle in the “Leptocephalus stage,” a see-through larval phase shared among all eels. Throughout this stage, they exhibit small bodily organs and a conspicuous absence of red blood cells.

As male eels mature, their olfactory organs undergo significant growth, enhancing their ability to detect females by sensing the pheromones they release. Coinciding with this transformation, they undergo a unique change by losing their teeth. In contrast, females experience almost no change during their maturation process.

This could suggest that the male gulper eels dedicate their all to finding a suitable mate, potentially leading to their death shortly after reproducing. There are no notable dangers posed to these eels, and humans do not utilize them for consumption.



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