close map

Commonly Asked Questions

Appears in Georgia Aquarium's:
  • Garden Eels Habitat (Tropical Diver)

Range / Habitat

  • Occurs in tropical Indo-Pacific waters from the Red Sea and East Africa to Japan and south to northwest Australia and New Caledonia, and throughout Micronesia.
  • Found along sandy slopes and bottoms at depths of 23 to164 feet (7-50 m) in areas of strong currents.
  • Lives in a sandy burrow that it digs tail-first. The garden eel then coats the sand walls with mucus from its body to cement the sand grains together to prevent collapse.

Physical Characteristics

  • Has a whitish body densely-covered with small black spots. Three larger black spots are seen along the side of the body: one at the gill opening, one near the pectoral fin and another at the base of the tail.
  • Juvenile is entirely black. 
  • Can grow to about 24 inches (60 cm) in length although individuals of 14-16 inches (35-40 cm) are more common.
  • Body diameter to about 0.5 inches (1.4 cm).

Diet / Feeding

  • Diet consists of zooplankton it picks from the current as it flows past. For this reason, all the eels in a colony generally face the same direction: into the current.

Reproduction / Growth

  • Male and female move burrows to increase proximity during mating season.
  • Will stretch from adjacent burrows and intertwine bodies to spawn.
  • The male will display protective behaviors toward his female mate, keeping other competitors away. It may bite rivals.
  • Pelagic spawner: after mating, female will release fertilized eggs into the current.
  • After eggs hatch in current, larvae continue to float until reaching a size threshold. At that point, the juvenile garden eel will dig its own burrow.

Conservation Status

  • “Not Evaluated” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • Lives in colonies of up to several hundred individuals each occupying its own burrow with approximately 15 organisms per square meter. Usually, the largest male lives in the center burrow.
  • Most commonly seen with one-quarter of its body extended out of the burrow, swaying in the current like a blade of seagrass in order to feed on passing plankton.
  • Easily disturbed and quickly retracts itself, tail first, into its burrow. 
  • Rarely leaves its sand burrow, even to spawn. 
  • Discovered when SCUBA diving became popular. 


Reef Fish Identification - Tropical Pacific. Allen, G.; Steene, R.; Humann, P. and Deloach, N., pg. 447
Encyclopedia of Fishes, 2nd Edition; pg. 88