Harlequin Snake Eel, Myrichthys colubrinus (Boddaert 1781)

Other Names: Harlequin Snake-eel, Ringed Snake Eel

A Harlequin Snake Eel, Myrichthys colubrinus, at Yardie Creek, North West Cape, Western Australia, September 2019. Source: Alex Hoschke / iNaturalist.org. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial

A pale snake eel with 25-32 broad dark bands that fully encircle the body and are darker towards the head, and a blunt snout that is about equal in length to the eye diameter. Adults may develop large black spots between the bands.
Video of a Harlequin Snake Eel (aka Harlequin Snake Eel) in the Solomon Islands

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2022, Myrichthys colubrinus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 14 Jun 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/2898

Harlequin Snake Eel, Myrichthys colubrinus (Boddaert 1781)

More Info


Houtman Abrolhos to the Monte Bello Islands, Western Australia, and the northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, to northern New South Wales (and possibly across northern Australia); also Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean, and the Lord Howe Province in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere the species is widespread in the tropical Indo-west-central Pacific: Red Sea south to least to Delagoa Bay, Mozambique, east across the Indian and Pacific Oceans to Johnston Atoll, Line Islands, Society Islands, and the Tuamotu Archipelago, north to Japan, and south to New South Wales, Australia. 
Inhabits sand and sand/rubble flats and seagrass beds in lagoons and bays, usually buried in the sand during the day.


Vertebrae 190–202; body very elongate, depth 51–68 in total length; head length 17–20 in total length; snout blunt, rounded, 3–5 in HL, about equal to orbit diameter; head and trunk 2.0–2.3 in total length; origin of dorsal fin on head, predorsal length 1.7–2.3 in HL. 
Anal fin ending well in advance of end of dorsal fin; pectoral fins very small, 3–5 in snout length; teeth granular, in two rows in jaws.


Whitish to  cream-coloured with 25–32 black rings, most completely encircling head and body, first enclosing eye; a round black spot (sometimes 2 or 3) often present in pale interspaces, developing with age and present in both sexes.


Known to feed on benthic crustaceans.


This species is thought to mimic venomous banded sea snakes. 

Similar Species

Differs from the Saddled Snake Eel, Leiuranus semicintus, in having dark bands completely encircling the body (vs. dark saddles in L. semicinctus), and a blunt snout that is about equal in length to the orbit diameter (vs. a longer and more pointed snout, about twice the orbit diameter).


The specific name is from the Latin colubrinus (= snakelike).

Species Citation

Muraena colubrina Boddaert 1781, Neue Nordische Beiträge (Pallas) 1781: 56, pl. 2(2). Type locality: Ambon Island (as Amboina), Indonesia


Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Harlequin Snake Eel, Myrichthys colubrinus (Boddaert 1781)


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

Allen, G.R. 2000. Fishes of the Montebello Islands. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 59: 47-57 

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. 

Boddaert, P. 1781. Beschreibung zweier merkwürdiger Fische (Sparus palpebratus und Muraena colubrina). Neue Nordische Beiträge (Pallas) 1781: 55-57 pl. 2

Castelnau, F.L. de 1875. Researches on the fishes of Australia. Intercolonial Exhibition Essays. 2. pp. 1–52 in, Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 : Official Record. Melbourne. (described as Ophichthys elapsoides)

Choat, J.H., van Herwerden, L., Robbins, W.D., Hobbs, J.P. & Ayling, A.M. 2006. A report on the ecological surveys undertaken at Middleton and Elizabeth Reefs, February 2006. Report by James Cook University to the Department of the Environment and Heritage. 65 pp. 

Francis, Malcolm. 2019. Checklist of the coastal fishes of Lord Howe, Norfolk and Kermadec Islands, southwest Pacific Ocean. figshare. Collection. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4428305.v2 

Hobbs, J-P.A., Newman, S .J., Mitsopoulos, G.E.A., Travers, M.J., Skepper, C.L., Gilligan, J.J., Allen, G.R., Choat, H.J. & Ayling, A.M. 2014. Fishes of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands: new records, community composition and biogeographic significance. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 30: 203–219 

Hutchins, J.B. 1997. Checklist of fishes of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia. pp. 239-253 in Wells, F. (ed.) The Marine Fauna and Flora of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum. 

Johnson, J.W. 2010. Fishes of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and adjacent continental shelf waters, Queensland, Australia. pp. 299-353 in Davie, P.J.F. & Phillips, J.A. Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Marine Biological Workshop, The Marine Fauna and Flora of Moreton Bay. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 54(3) 

Jordan, D.S. & Snyder, J.O. 1901. A review of the apodal fishes or eels of Japan, with descriptions of nineteen new species. Proceedings of the United States National Museum 23(1239): 837-890 

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 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 

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. & Rosenblatt, R.H. 1993. A revision of the snake eel genus Myrichthys (Anguilliformes: Ophichthidae) with the description of a new eastern Pacific species. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 48(8): 153-169 

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 507 pp. figs. 

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs. 

Randall, J.E., Gray, A., Franklin, E.C., Mundy, B.C. & McCosker, J.E. 2019. Five New Records of Fishes for the Hawaiian Islands. Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation 33: 28–43. http://dx.doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3255089

Weber, M. & de Beaufort, L.F. 1916. The Fishes of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Ostariophysi: II. Cyprinoidea, Apodes, Synbranchi. Leiden : Brill Vol. 3 455 pp. 214 figs.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37068025


Depth:1-50 m

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:97 cm TL

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Species Maps

CAAB distribution map