Shorthead Worm Eel, Scolecenchelys breviceps (Günther 1876)

Other Names: Devis' Worm-eel, Longfinned Worm Eel, Long-finned Worm Eel, Ogilby's Worm-eel, Shortheaded Worm Eel, Short-headed Worm Eel, Short-headed Worm-eel, Slender Eel

A Shorthead Worm Eel, Scolecenchelys breviceps, at Blairgowrie Pier, Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, October 2010. Source: Sarah Speight / Flickr. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

A long, slender, greenish-brown to pale tan worm eel with a pale lower half, low dorsal and anal fins that barely reach the sharply pointed tail tip, the dorsal fin originating closer to the snout than to the anus, no pectoral fins, and no black spot surrounding the anus.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2023, Scolecenchelys breviceps in Fishes of Australia, accessed 17 Jun 2024,

Shorthead Worm Eel, Scolecenchelys breviceps (Günther 1876)

More Info


Widespread in southern Australia, from about Wallis Lake, New South Wales, to Perth, Western Australia, including around Tasmania. Elsewhere, the species occurs in New Zealand.

Nocturnal species, uses its bony tail tip to burrow tail first into soft sediments in estuaries, bays and inshore waters.


Vertebrae 161-167

Body depth 1.9-2.9% TL; head length 8.0-9.4% TL; tail 58-63% of TL; dorsal fin origin slightly before middle of preanal length; snout blunt, lower jaw only slightly shorter than snout; eye moderate, diameter less than interorbital distance, rear margin of eye above or ahead of level of corner of jaw; teeth small, numerous, in two or three irregular rows on jaws and vomer; teeth in an oval patch on "premaxillary", patch joining that of vomer.


To 60 cm TL.


Greenish-brown above, reaching a line from angle of mouth posteriorly to gill opening and then to anus; markedly darker above lateral midline; chest and anus not notably darkened; much paler below.


Individuals use their stiffened tail to probe the sediment for food items such as alpheid shrimps and other benthic invertebrates.


The species is occasionally trawled in offshore waters.


Digested or "encysted" Shorthead Worm Eels are occassionally taken from the stomachs or even the body cavities of deeper-living fish - the eel having penetrated the stomach wall after being swallowed.


The specific name breviceps is from the Latin brevis (= short) and ceps (= head), in reference to the shorter head of this species, compared with that of Muraenichthys macropterus (= Scolecenchelys macropterus).

Species Citation

Muraenichthys breviceps Günther, 1876, Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. (4) 17: 401. Type locality: Tasmania.


Bray, D.J. 2023


Atlas of Living Australia

Shorthead Worm Eel, Scolecenchelys breviceps (Günther 1876)


Castle, P.H.J. 1994. Families Synaphobranchidae, Nettastomatidae, Ophichthidae. pp. 195-203 figs 172-179 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds) The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs. (as Muraenichthys breviceps)

Castle, P.J. & McCosker, J.E. 1999. A new genus and two new species of Myrophine worm-eels, with comments on Muraenichthys and Scolecenchelys (Anguilliformes: Ophichthidae). Records of the Australian Museum 51(2, 3): 113-122

Edgar, G.J., Last, P.R. & Wells, M.W. 1982. Coastal Fishes of Tasmania and Bass Strait. Hobart : Cat & Fiddle Press 175 pp. (as Muraenichthys breviceps)

Edgar, G.J. & Shaw, C. 1995. The production and tropic ecology of shallow-water fish assemblages in Southern Australia. II. Diets of fishes and tropic relationships between fishes and benthos at Western Port, Victoria. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 194: 83-106. (as Muraenichthys breviceps)

Fowler, H.W. 1908. A collection of fishes from Victoria, Australia. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia 59(3): 419-444 figs 1-10 (described as Muraenichthys devisi, and as Muraenichthys ogilbyi) See ref at BHL

Günther, A. 1876. Remarks on fishes, with descriptions of new species in the British Museum, chiefly from southern seas. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4 17(43): 389-402 See ref at BHL

Hibino, Y. & Kimura, S. 2015. Revision of the Scolecenchelys gymnota species group with descriptions of two new species (Anguilliformes: Ophichthidae: Myrophinae). Ichthyological Research 63(1): 1-22

Hibino, Y., Kimura, S., Hoshino, Ka., Hatooka, K. & McCosker, J.E. 2012. Validity of Scolecenchelys aoki, with a redescription of Scolecenchelys gymnota (Anguilliformes: Ophichthidae). Ichthyological Research 59: 179-188.

Hoschke, A., Whisson, G. & Moore, G.I. 2019. Complete list of fishes from Rottnest Island. pp. 150-161 in Whisson, G. & Hoschke, A. (eds) The Rottnest Island fish book. 2nd ed. Perth : Aqua Research and Monitoring Service

Hutchins, J.B. & Swainston, R. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Perth : Swainston Publishing 180 pp. (as Muraenichthys breviceps)

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 pp. (as Muraenichthys breviceps)

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. (as Muraenichthys breviceps)

Kuiter, R. & Kuiter, S. 2018. Coastal sea-fishes of south-eastern Australia. Seaford, Victoria : Aquatic Photographics, 371 pp.

May, J.L. & Maxwell, J.G.H. 1986. Field Guide to Trawl Fish from Temperate Waters of Australia. Hobart : CSIRO Division of Marine Research 492 pp. (as Muraenichthys breviceps)

McCosker, J.E. 1970. A review of the eel genera Leptenchelys and Muraenichthys, with the description of a new genus, Schismorhynchus, and a new species, Muraenichthys chilensis. Pacific Science 24(4): 506-516 figs 1-6 (as Muraenichthys breviceps?)

McCosker, J.E. 1977. The osteology, classification, and relationships of the eel family Ophichthidae. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (4) 41(1): 1-123. (as Muraenichthys brevicepsSee ref at BHL

McCosker, J.E. 2006. A new deepwater species of worm-eel, Scolecenchelys castlei (Anguilliformes: Ophichthidae), from New Zealand and Australia, with comments on S. breviceps and S. macroptera. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 36(1): 17-26.

McCosker, J.E., Ide, S. & Endo, H. 2012. Three new species of ophichthid eels (Anguilliformes: Ophichthidae) from Japan. Bulletin of the National Museum of Nature and Science (Ser. A) Supplement 6: 1-16.

McCosker, J., Smith, D.G. & Tighe, K. 2022. Scolecenchelys breviceps. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2022: e.T199145A2563740. Accessed on 17 August 2023.

McCosker, J.E. & Stewart, A.L. 2015. 40 Family Ophichthidae. pp. 249-258 in Roberts, C.D., Stewart, A.L. & Struthers, C.D. (eds). The Fishes of New Zealand. Wellington : Te Papa Press Vol. 2 pp. 1-576.

Phillipps, W.J. 1926. New or rare fishes of New Zealand. Transactions of the New Zealand Institute 56: 529-537, Pls. 87-92. (described as Aotea acus, type locality Cook Strait, New Zealand)

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 1397-2068 pp.

Smith, D.G. & McCosker, J.E. 2008. Family Ophichthidae. pp. 166-169 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds) Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Whitley, G.P. 1955. Sidelights on New Zealand ichthyology. Australian Zoologist 12(2): 110-119, Pl. 6. (described as Muraenichthys breviceps halituna, type locality Tasman Bay, New Zealand)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37068004

Behaviour:Nocturnal, burrowing

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:1-220 m

Habitat:Inshore, soft sediments

Max Size:60 cm TL

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CAAB distribution map