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 very long, slender, greenish-brown worm-like eel with low dorsal and anal fins that barely reach the sharply pointed tail tip, and no pectoral fins.

Shorthead worm eels are nocturnal and usually remain buried during the day, venturing out at night to prey on invertebrates. They use their bony tail tip to burrow tail first into the sediment.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Scolecenchelys breviceps in Fishes of Australia, accessed 23 Sep 2020,

Shorthead Worm Eel, Scolecenchelys breviceps (Günther 1876)

More Info


Widespread in southern Australia, from about Moreton Bay to Perth, including Tasmania. Elsewhere, the species occurs in New Zealand.

Buries into soft sediments in estuaries and inshore waters; occasionally trawled offshore in depths to 156 m.


Vertebrae 161-167

Body depth 1.9-2.9% TL; head length 8.0-9.4% TL; snout rounded, lower jaw only slightly shorter than snout; eye moderate, diameter less than inteorbital distance, rear margin of eye above or ahead of level of corner of jaw; teeth 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.


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.

Species Citation

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


Dianne J. Bray


Australian Faunal Directory

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. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 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 (p. 421, fig. 2, as Muraenichthys devisi, and p. 423, fig. 3, as Muraenichthys ogilbyi)

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

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)

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. 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. J. R. Soc. N. Z. 36(1): 17-26.

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.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37068004


Depth:1-156 m

Habitat:Soft bottom, in burrows

Max Size:60 cm TL

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