Arrow Eel, Cyema atrum Günther 1878

Other Names: Bob Tail Snipe Eel

Illustration of an Arrow Eel, Cyema atrum. Source: From Zugmayer 1912 Pl IV / EOL. License: Copyright expired

A rare and very unusual deepwater eel found in deep oceanic waters. The Arrow Eel is a velvety dark brown to violet-black with a short, compressed body, slender, beak-like jaws, and dorsal and anal fins projecting beyond the tail as a pair of pointed lobes.
Like all eels, the Arrow Eel has a leptocephalus larval stage.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Cyema atrum in Fishes of Australia, accessed 15 Dec 2018,

Arrow Eel, Cyema atrum Günther 1878

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Circumglobal in all oceans. recorded in Australia from off off Cape Pasley, Western Australia.


Meristic features: Lateral line pores ~90; Vertebrae ~ 80.
Body compressed, anus at mid-body, trunk and tail of equal length. Jaws delicate, beak-like, greatly elongate; teeth minute, close-set with recurved points, on jaws and vomer. Anterior nostrils tubular, posterior nostrils pore-like, close together in front of small eyes. Gill openings small, below pectoral-fin base. 
Dorsal and anal fins well developed, beginning just behind level of anus, increasing in height and projecting beyond caudal fin as a pair of pointed lobes; caudal fin a few short rays; pectoral fins present; pelvic fins absent. 


Dark velvety brown or violet-black.


The deep-bodied larvae have a pointed head and tail, a very long gut with 3-4 loops on the posterior half, a low myomere count for eels (74-80 myomeres), and the dorsal fin origin approximately above the anus. Pigment includes melanophores scattered on the snout, lower jaw, over the sides and along the gut, especially along the loops. larvae transform at 60-70 mm SL.


The prominent skin papillae on the Arrow Eel share several features with the electroreceptors of other fishes.

Species Citation

Cyema atrum Günther, 1878, Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 5 2(2, 22, 28): 251. Type locality: South Pacific.


Dianne J. Bray

Arrow Eel, Cyema atrum Günther 1878


Aizawa, M. & K. Sakamoto. 1993. First record of an arrow eel Cyema atrum (Cyematidae: Saccopharyngiformes) from Japan. Japanese Journal of Ichthyology 39(4): 398-400.

Castle, P.H.J. 1986. Cyemidae. p. 192-193. In Smith, M.M. & Heemstra, P.C. (eds) Smiths' sea fishes. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Charter, S.R. 1996. Cyematidae: bobtail eels. p. 145-149. In Moser, H.G. (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.

Günther, A. 1878. Preliminary notices of deep-sea fishes collected during the voyage of H.M.S. Challenger. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 5 2(2, 22, 28): 17-28, 179-187, 248-251.

Karmovskaya, E.S. 1978. Preliminary list of eels (Anguilliformes, Osteichthys) of the Australian-New Zealand region (on materials collected during the 16th cruise of the R/V Dimitry Mendeleev). Trudy Instituta Okeanologii. Akademiya Nauk SSSR. Moskva 112: 147-151. [in Russian]

Matarese, A.C., A.W. Kendall, D.M. Blood & M.V. Vinter. 1989. Laboratory guide to early life history stages of Northeast Pacific fishes. NOAA Tech. Rep. NMFS 80: 1-652.

Meyer-Rochow, V.B. 1978. Skin papillae as possible electroreceptors in the deep-sea eel Cyema atrum (Cyemidae: Anguilloidei). Marine Biology 46(3): 277-282.

Paulin, C., A. Stewart, C. Roberts & P. McMillan, 1989. New Zealand fish: a complete guide. National Museum of New Zealand Miscellaneous Series No. 19. 279 pp.

Saldanha, L.& M.-L. Bauchot. 1986. Cyemidae. p. 557-558. In P.J.P. Whitehead, M.-L. Bauchot, J.-C. Hureau, J. Nielsen & E. Tortonese (eds) Fishes of the north-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Vol. 2..UNESCO, Paris. 
Whitley, G.P. 1966. Marine Fishes of Australia. Brisbane : Jacaranda Press Vol. 1 pp. 1-142.

Trewavas, E. 1933. On the Structure of two Oceanic Fishes, Cyema atrum Günther and Opisthoproctus soleatus Vaillant. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 103(3): 601-614.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37077001

Behaviour:Meso-, bathy-, abyssopelagic

Depth:330-5100 m

Max Size:15 cm TL

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