Shortfin Worm Eel, Scolecenchelys australis (Macleay 1881)

Other Names: Down's Worm Eel, Iredale's Worm-eel, Scotts Worm Eel, Shortfinned Worm Eel, Southern Worm Eel, Southern Worm-eel, Tasmanian Worm Eel, Tasmanian Worm-eel, Worm Eel
An olive-green to brownish worm eel covered in darkly speckles, with a paler lower head and trunk, and a brown tail. The dorsal fin usually originates behind the level of the anus (sometimes above the anus or well behind).

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2023, Scolecenchelys australis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 20 Jul 2024,

Shortfin Worm Eel, Scolecenchelys australis (Macleay 1881)

More Info


Widespread in Southern Australia, from the southern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, to Cervantes, Western Australia, including northern and eastern Tasmania; also Norfolk Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere, the species occurs in the Kermadec Islands, New Zealand.

Inhabits soft sediments in bays, estuaries, tidepools and inshore coastal waters to a depth of about 50 metres, often occurring in groups.


Vertebrae 145-157.

Body depth 3.3-4.0% TL; head 7.8-8.9% TL; snout pointed; lower jaw obviously shorter than snout; eyes small; about 10-15 teeth in a single series on jaws and vomer, in oval patch on "premaxillary", the patch distinct from that of vomer. Dorsal-fin origin usually slightly behind level of anus (occasionally just before or noticeably behind it).


Olive-green to brown above with very small dark speckles, paler below on the head and trunk, generally brown along tail.


Feeds on small benthic invertebrates.



The specific name is from the Latin australis (= southern) in reference to the type locality, Sydney, Australia.

Species Citation

Muraenichthys australis Macleay 1881, Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. 1 6(2): 272.Type locality: Lane Cove River, near Sydney, NSW.


Bray, D.J. 2023


Atlas of Living Australia

Shortfin Worm Eel, Scolecenchelys australis (Macleay 1881)


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.

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. (as Scolecenchelys australis and S. tasmaniensis)

Francis, M. 1993. Checklist of the coastal fishes of Lord Howe, Norfolk, and Kermadec Islands, southwest Pacific Ocean. Pacific Science 47(2): 136-170 figs 1-2

Hibino, Y., & Kimura, S. 2016. Revision of the Scolecenchelys gymnota species group with descriptions of two new species (Anguilliformes: Ophichthidae: Myrophinae). Ichthyological Research 63: 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. 2005. Checklist of marine fishes of Recherche Archipelago and adjacent mainland waters. pp. 425-449 in Wells, F.E., Walker, D.I. & Kendrick, G.A. (eds). Proceedings of the Twelfth International Marine Biological Workshop: The Marine Flora and Fauna of Esperance, Western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum.

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.

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.

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., Smith, D.G. & Tighe, K. 2022. Scolecenchelys australis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2022: e.T199101A2559195. Accessed on 24 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. The Fishes of New Zealand. Wellington : Te Papa Press Vol. 2 pp. 1-576.

McCulloch, A.R. 1911. Report on the fishes obtained by the F.I.S. Endeavour on the coasts of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Part 1. Zoological (Biological) Results. Endeavour 1(1): 1-87 (as Muraenichthys tasmaniensis, type locality Entrance to Oyster Bay, Tasmania, Australia)

Ogilby, J.D. 1897. Some new genera and species of fishes. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 22(2): 245-251  

Scott, E.O.G. 1975. Observations on some Tasmanian fishes. Part 21. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 109: 127-173 (described as Muraenichthys lingowenah, type locality off Prime Seal Island, Furneaux Group, Bass Strait)

Scott, E.O.G. 1980. Observations on some Tasmanian fishes. Part 26. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 114: 85-144 (described as Muraenichthys (Muraenichthys) lengomena, type locality Eddystone Point, east coast Tasmania, 25 fathoms)

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.

Waite, E.R. 1910. A list of the known fishes of Kermadec and Norfolk Islands, and a comparison with those of Lord Howe Islands. Transactions of the New Zealand Institute  42: 370-383, Pls. 35-36. (described as Muraenichthys oliveri, type locality Kermadec Islands)

Whitley, G.P. 1944. New sharks and fishes from Western Australia. The Australian Zoologist 10(3): 252-273. (described as Scolecenchelys tasmaniensis smithi, type locality Quindalup, Geographe Bay, Western Australia) See ref at BHL

Whitley, G.P. 1962. Marine Fishes. Natural History of Sydney, Australian Museum. 44-52 pp.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37068003

Behaviour:Nocturnal, burrowing

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:0-50 m

Habitat:Sandy to muddy bottoms

Max Size:40 cm TL

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map