Gulper Eels: Deep Mysteries, Enormous Mouths, Dark Secrets

The gulper eel (Eurypharynx pelecanoides), a fish found in deep waters, has a peculiar look. What distinguishes it most is its enormous mouth. In relation to their physique, their mouths are excessively huge.

Their mouths open wide enough to swallow prey far bigger than they are, giving the impression that they can move their jaws. Because the prey is subsequently placed into a lower jaw that resembles a pouch and resembles a pelican, they are also known as Pelican eels.

Their bodies are made to withstand any large meal since their stomachs have the capacity to enlarge. Because of this trait, they are also commonly called umbrella mouth gulpers. Gupper eels can be found in all tropical and temperate oceans worldwide; however, because they inhabit the deepest waters, most of the information we have about them comes from gulpers that become caught in deep sea fishing nets.

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Gulper Eel Appearance

The gulper eel may be distinguished from other eel species with ease thanks to its large mouth. However, there are other characteristics that set it apart. Their tiny pectoral fins are hardly noticeable. Moreover, scientists believe that rather than producing images, gulper eels’ little eyes evolved to detect minuscule amounts of light. In addition, they have long tails that resemble whips.

Their lengthy tails end in the photomore, an organ that creates light. This organ glows pink and occasionally flashes red. They employ this trait to their advantage when hunting, drawing their prey to them because they are not very excellent swimmers.

As soon as their prey gets close enough to their massive mouths, they will pursue it. Their length varies from three to six feet, and they are often dark green or black in color. They could have a white line of dentation on the sides of their dorsal fin. Typically, gulper eels weigh twenty pounds.

Gulper Eel Behavior

Although pelican eels go by several names, the umbrella-mouth gulper is the most fitting term because of the way their jaws enlarge to create a new mouth that can capture small fish or squid. For feeders that seize opportunities, this balloon-like capacity is highly useful. Without this function, the gulper’s tiny teeth could never do the task on its own.

Their lips may look menacing, but they are poor hunters. In contrast to other deepwater species, gulper eels have unusually small eyes. They therefore have to rely on their photomore, which is located close to the tip of their tail, to attract prey.

They are also poor swimmers due to their whip-like tails and lack of pelvic fins. This could be the reason these mysterious species are still found in depths of 3000–6000 feet. These eels spend much of their time drifting around in the depths, but they’re not idle; rather, they’re conserving energy to find a partner.

Because they have larger olfactory organs than females, males are better at finding females by scent. Unfortunately, this is also the period when they start to lose their teeth. Researchers claim that this happens as a result of their whole focus on reproduction. Moreover, they believe that gulper eels die soon after mating.

Gulper Eel Habitat

Deep ocean waters, between 3000 and 6000 feet, are home to gulper eels. They have developed certain adaptations to assist them survive there with little food sources because the sun does not reach that far and the ocean is completely dark.

Gulper Eel Diet

Crassaceans are their main food source. They can consume a large quantity in a single sitting because of their big mouths, hence they frequently prey on groups of:

  • Cephalopods
  • Shrimps
  • Small Invertebrates

Gulper Eel Predators and Threats

Although they don’t have many predators at the depths they live in, gulper eels are preyed upon by deep-sea predators like lancetfish.

They are not eaten by people, and they face no serious risks. They may, nevertheless, pose a threat to humans. Although they are not lethal, they can shock people. Multiple shocks, however, have the potential to cause serious harm and, in extreme circumstances, even death.

These days, their population appears to be stable, and they are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Redlist.

Gulper Eel Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

The Gulper eel’s methods of reproduction are not well understood. When they are first born, they are in the leptocephalus stage (thin and transparent), just like other eels. They have small bodily organs and no red blood cells until they reach the juvenile stage.

Males undergo changes as they mature, including an enlargement of their olfactory organs, which leads to the loss of teeth. Male Gulper eels also have distinct reproductive organs. Male testes take up the majority of the stomach cavity during reproduction, causing the stomach to contract. But after a female reaches sexual maturity, she doesn’t seem to change at all.

The larger olfactory organs of males aid in their location of the females, who emit a pheromone into the ocean. Gulper eels are believed by several researchers to perish soon after reproducing. Furthermore, they don’t reproduce until later in life, which is thought to be a tactic to improve the chances of progeny survival.

Gulper Eel Population

Unfortunately, no data regarding the population size of Gulper eels is available because people cannot access their habitat. Nevertheless, the IUCN considers its population to be stable.

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