Pelican Eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides Vaillant 1882

Other Names: Gulper Eel

Pelican Eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides from off southern NSW. Source: Ken Graham. License: All rights reserved


Bizarre deep-water eels with an enormous mouth, extremely long jaws, pore-like gill openings and a very expandable pharynx and stomach. Pelican eels lack scales and are covered in black velvety skin. They have a very long tapering compressed tail that is tipped with a small pinkish light organ. The skull is tiny in comparison with the huge mouth and jaws.

Pelican Eels live in the deep oceanic midwaters and mostly feed on deep-sea crustaceans captured in their huge mouths.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Eurypharynx pelecanoides in Fishes of Australia, accessed 17 Mar 2018,

Pelican Eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides Vaillant 1882

More Info


Known in Australian waters from off the Northwest shelf, Western Australia, and from Townsville, Queensland to south of Maatsuyker Island, Tasmania; also from the Tasman Sea.

Elsewhere, widespread in tropical and temperate regions of all oceans; in mid-waters to 3000m.


Meristic features: Dorsal fin 155–196; Anal fin 118–147; Pectoral fin about 11; Vertebrae 101–113.

Body elongate, mostly comprised of the mouth and greatly expandable pharynx, distance from tip of snout to angle of jaw 18–24% TL; small eyes close to snout tip; teeth in jaws tiny and numerous.

Trunk relatively deep, tail region elongate, slender, compressed, caudal fin absent, tail ending in a small luminous caudal organ.

Pectoral fin reduced, low on side just behind gill opening; scales absent, body covered in soft black velvety skin; lateral line present but without pores.


To 75 cm TL


Body covered in black velvety skin, tiny light organ pinkish.


Carnivore - feeding mostly mesopelagic and bathypelagic crustaceans, engulfed in teh enormous mouth.


The larvae are described by Smith (1989).

The light organ at the tail tip may lure predators to attack the least vulnerable part of the Pelican Eel's body (Smith 2008).


Of no interest to fisheries.


IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Not evaluated


The species is named pelecanoides for its huge mouth that expands like that of a pelican. 

Species Citation

Eurypharynx pelecanoides Vaillant 1882, C. R. Hebd. Séances Acad. Sci. 95: 1226.

Type locality: off Morocco, 29°52'N, 11°44'W, 2300m.


Dianne J. Bray

Pelican Eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides Vaillant 1882


Charter, S.R. 1996. Eurypharyngidae: umbrellamouth gulpers. p. 155-157. In H.G. Moser (ed.) The early stages of fishes in the California Current region. California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations Atlas No. 33. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas. 1505 p.

Inoue, J.G., Miya, M., Tsukamoto, K., & M. Nishida. 2003. Evolution of the deep-sea gulper eel mitochondrial genomes: Large-scale gene rearrangements originated within the eels. Molecular Biology and Evolution 20: 1917-1924.

Nielsen, J.G., Bertelsen, E. & Jespersen, A. 1989. The biology of Eurypharynx pelecanoides (Pisces, Eurypharyngidae). Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 70(3): 187-197

Nielsen, J.G. & Bertelsen, E. 1990. Eurypharyngidae. 206 in Quéro, J.-C., Hureau, J.-C., Karrer, C., Post, A. & Saldanha, L. (eds). Check-list of the Fishes of the Eastern Tropical Atlantic. Paris : UNESCO 1492 pp., 3 vols.

Paxton, J.R., J.E. Gates & D.F. Hoese 2006. Families Cyematidae, Eurypharyngidae and Saccopharyngidae. pp. 304-307 in Beesley, P.L. & Wells, A. (eds). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35 Australia : ABRS & CSIRO Publishing Parts 1-3 2178 pp.

Smith, D.G. 1989. Family Eurypharyngidae (pp. 948-954). In Böhlke, E.B. (ed.) 1989. Fishes of the Western North Atlantic. Mem. Sears Found. Mar. Res. 1(9): 1–1055 (2 volumes).

Smith, D.G. 1999. Families Colocongridae, Derichthyidae, Muraenesocidae, Nemichtyhyidae, Congridae, Nettastomatidae, Serrivomeridae, Cyematidae, Saccopharyngidae, Eurypharyngidae, Monognathidae. pp. 1670-1697 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 3 1397-2068 pp.

Smith, D.G. 2008. Family Eurypharyngidae. pp. 182 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Vaillant, L.L. 1882. Sur un poisson des grandes profondeurs de l'Atlantique, l'Eurypharynx pelecanoides. Comptes Rendus (Hebdomadaires) des Séances de l'Academie des Sciences. Série D. Sciences Naturelles 95: 1226-1228

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37079001

Biology:Bioluminescent tail tip

Depth:500-3000 metres

Habitat:Mesopelagic, bathypelagic

Max Size:75 cm TL

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CAAB distribution map