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Spiny Eels

The spiny eel, belonging to the order Notacanthiformes and the family Notacanthidae, is an eel-like fish that grows to more than 3.3 ft (1 m) long and lives in the north Atlantic Ocean. It has a series of short, thick spines on its back, and there are about 20 slender spines preceding its anal fin on its underside. This fish is a benthic fish, meaning that it lives close to or on the bottom of the sea.

Within the order Notacanthiformes, there are three families; the most notable of which are the Halosauridae (halosaurs) and the Notacanthidae (spiny eels). All fish in this order have pectoral fins placed high on their sides, pelvic fins positioned on their abdomens, and anal fins that are long and merged with their tail fins. All are deep water fishes, inhabiting at depths of between 656-11,808 ft (200-3,600 m). The order is distributed world wide, containing 20 species and 6 genera. Within the family Notacanthidae, there are 3 genera with 10 species, including the spiny eel.

Spiny eels (Notacanthus chemnitzii) have slender, elongated bodies, usually brown or grayish brown in color. They have fairly small scales; in fact, there are often more than 50 horizontal rows of scales on each of their sides. These fish have rounded or pointed snouts which project beyond their mouths. Indeed, their mouths are located on the underside of their heads, which makes it easier for them to get food from the bottom of the sea floor. Spiny eels, living at depths of 656 ft (200 m) or more, eat bottom-living sea-anemones, probably feeding in a head-down position on the seabed. Some fish in this family have up to three spine-like rays on each pelvic fin.

One species, the blunt snouted spiny eel, lives in the seas near northern Europe and is occasionally netted off of the coast of Iceland. This fish, which lives at depths of about 980 ft (299 m), can grow to 47 in (119 cm) long. Like other spiny eels, it eats sea anemones and other creatures living on the sea floor.

Spiny eels are rarely seen; thus, few facts are known about their habits.

Kathryn Snavely

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Spectroscopy to Stoma (pl. stomata)