Blackfin Snake Eel, Ophichthus altipennis (Kaup 1856)

Other Names: Black-finned Snake-eel, Highfin Snake Eel

Black-finned Snake Eel, Ophichthus altipennis, in Lembeh Strait, Bitung, Sulawesi Utara, Indonesia. Source: Mark Rosenstein / iNaturalist. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

A tan to brownish snake eel, darker above in larger eels, with a dark margin on the dorsal and anal fins, pectoral fins brownish-black, a prominent pale blotch before the eye and a smaller pale spot on the snout above the anterior nostril, prominent barbels along the lower margin of the upper lip, a barbel beneath the anterior margin of the eye, and another midway between the eye and the base of the anterior nostril. The dorsal fin is relatively tall, and originates just above or slightly in advance of the gill openings.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2022, Ophichthus altipennis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 23 May 2024,

Blackfin Snake Eel, Ophichthus altipennis (Kaup 1856)

More Info


Cape Naturaliste, south Western Australia, to the northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland (and possibly further south as the species occurs at Lord Howe Island); also Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea, and the Lord Howe Province in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere the species occurs in the Indo-west Pacific: Maldives, east to the Marshall Islands and Society Islands, north to Taiwan and Japan, south to eastern Australia and New Caledonia.
Inhabits inshore soft sediment areas. the species is nocturnally active, and usually buried in sand with only the head protruding.


Lateral-line pores 7–9 predorsal, 55–61 preanal; Pectoral fin 16–18; Vertebrae 172–182.
Head long 9.5–10.9% TL; Tail length 58.1–65.6% TL, tapering rapidly; snout acute, length 20.0–24.4% HL. Three preopercular pores. Upper jaw teeth uniserial, teeth on vomer biserial anteriorly and uniserial posteriorly. Dorsal-fin origin anterior to a vertical through pectoral-fin insertion.


Feeds on cephalopod molluscs, crustaceans and small fishes.


The specific name altipennis is from the Latin altus (= high) and pennis (= fin, wing), in reference to the well-developed fins, especially the tall dorsal fin.

Species Citation

Kaup 1856 Archiv für Naturgeschichte 22(1): 43. Type locality: Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi (as Celebes), Indonesia.


Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Blackfin Snake Eel, Ophichthus altipennis (Kaup 1856)


Allen, G.R. 1993. Fishes of Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 44: 67-91 (as Ophichthus melanochir)

Allen, G.R. 1996. New records of reef and shore fishes from northwestern Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 18: 109-112 (as Ophichthus melanochir)

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

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

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. (as Ophichthus melanochir)

Bleeker, P. 1864. Atlas Ichthyologique des Indes Orientales Néerlandaises, publié sous les auspices du Gouvernement colonial néerlandais. Tome 4. Murènes, Symbranches, Leptocéphales. Amsterdam : Fréd. Müller 132 pp. pls 145-193. 

Bleeker, P. 1864. Poissons inédits indo-archipélagiques de l'ordre des murènes. Nederlandsch Tijdschrift voor de Dierkunde 2: 38-54 (described as Ophichthus melanochir, type locality Ambon, Indonesia)

Hibino, Y. & McCosker, J.E. 2020. Resurrection of Ophichthus zophistius (Actinopterygii: Anguilliformes: Ophichthidae), with a revised diagnosis of O. altipennis. Zootaxa 4801(2): 328-342

Kaup, J.J. 1856. Uebersicht der Aale. Archiv für Naturgeschichte 22(1): 41-77 See ref at BHL

Kaup, J.J. 1856. Catalogue of the apodal fish in the collection of the British Museum. London: 1-163, Pls. 1-19. See ref at BHL

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 (as Ophichthus altipinnis and Ophichthus melanochir)

McCosker, J.E. 2010. Ophichthus altipennis (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T155329A115301520. Accessed on 28 February 2022.

McCosker, J.E. & Randall, J.E. 2002. Ophichthys melanochir Bleeker, 1865, a junior synonym of the highfin snake eel Ophichthus altipennis (Kaup, 1856). Copeia 2002(3): 798-799 

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 

Randall, J.E. 2005. Reef and shore fishes of the South Pacific. New Caledonia to Tahiti and the Pitcairn Islands. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu. i-xii + 1-707.

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:37068030

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:1-40 m

Habitat:Sandy areas

Max Size:103 cm TL

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CAAB distribution map