Burrowing Snake Eel, Pisodonophis cancrivorus (Richardson 1848)

Other Names: Burrowing Snake-eel, Longfin Snake-eel
A long slender olive-brown snake eel becoming pale yellowish below, with a narrow black margin on the dorsal fin, and the dorsal fin origin above the front part of the pectoral fin. 
The species has a cylindrical body with only the tail tip compressed, an overhanging snout and tubular anterior nostrils. During the day, individuals are usually buried in sediment with only the head protruding.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2022, Pisodonophis cancrivorus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 29 May 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/Home/species/3082

Burrowing Snake Eel, Pisodonophis cancrivorus (Richardson 1848)

More Info


Shark Bay, Western Australia, to the Noosa River, Queensland. Elsewhere the species is widespread in the Red Sea and Indo-west Pacific: East and South Africa, Madagascar and western Mascarenes east to French Polynesia, north to Japan, south to Australia.
Inhabits soft sediment areas in lagoons, estuaries, and inshore waters, including the lower reaches of freshwater streams.


Vertebrae 152-163.
Body cylindrical, compressed only along extreme tail tip; anterior nostril tubular, posterior nostril along lower edge of lip; teeth granular to molariform, multiserial bands in jaws and vomer, but sharper in jaws.


Feeds on small fishes and crustaceans.


The specific name cancrivorus is from the Latin cancer (= crab) and voratus (= to eat), presumably in reference to the diet of this species.

Species Citation

Ophisurus cancrivorus Richardson 1848, Ichthyology, Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Erebus and Terror... Vol. 2: 97, pl.50 (fig.6-9). Type locality: Port Essington, Northern Territory.


Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Burrowing Snake Eel, Pisodonophis cancrivorus (Richardson 1848)


Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls. 

Allen, G.R. & Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Perth : Tropical Reef Research 3 vols, 1260 pp. 

Allen, G.R. & Swainston, R. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A field guide for anglers and divers. Perth, WA : Western Australian Museum vi 201 pp., 70 pls. 

Hutchins, J.B. 2003. Checklist of marine fishes of the Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia. pp. 453-478 in Wells, F.E., Walker, D.I., & Jones, D.S. (eds). Proceedings of the Eleventh International Marine Biological Workshop: The Marine Flora and Fauna of Dampier, Western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum. 

Kaup, J.J. 1856. Catalogue of Apodal Fish in the Collection of the British Museum. London : British Museum 163 pp. 19 pls.

Larson, H.K. & Williams, R.S. 1997. Darwin Harbour fishes: a survey and annotated checklist. pp. 339-380 in Hanley, H.R., Caswell, G., Megirian, D. & Larson, H.K. (eds). The Marine Flora and Fauna of Darwin Harbour, Northern Territory, Australia. Proceedings of the Sixth International Marine Biology Workshop. Darwin : Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory 466 pp.

Larson, H.K., Williams, R.S. & Hammer, M.P. 2013. An annotated checklist of the fishes of the Northern Territory, Australia. Zootaxa 3696(1): 1-293 

Macleay, W.J. 1881. Descriptive catalogue of the fishes of Australia. Part 4. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 1 6(2): 202-387 (described as Myrichthys chrysogaster, type locality Port Essington, Northern Tarritory)

McCosker, J.E. 1977. The osteology, classification, and relationships of the eel family Ophichthidae. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 41(1): 1-123 figs 1-45 

McCosker, J.E. & Castle, P.H.J. 1986. Family No. 42: Ophichthidae. pp. 176-186 in Smith, M.M. & Heemstra, P.C. (eds). Smith's Sea Fishes. Johannesburg : Macmillan South Africa xx + 1047 pp. 144 pls. 

Moore, G.I., Morrison, S.M., Hutchins, B.J., Allen, G.R. & Sampey, A. 2014. Kimberley marine biota. Historical data: fishes. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 84: 161-206 

Richardson, J. 1848. Ichthyology. 75-139 pls 42-43 & 44 (parts), 45-52, 53 in Richardson, J. & Gray, J.E. (eds). The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Erebus and Terror under the Command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross, R.N., F.R.S., during the years 1839–43. London : Smith, Elder & Co. Vol. 2 139 pp. See ref online

Smith, D.G. & McCosker, J.E. 1999. Family Ophichthidae. pp. 1662-1699 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 pp. 1397-2068.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37068002


Depth:1-20 m

Habitat:Rivers, estuaries, inshore waters

Max Size:108 cm TL

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map