(page 157)

Slime eel Simenchelys parasiticus Gill 1879


[Jordan and Evermann, 1896-1900, p. 349.]

Slime eel (Simenchelys parasiticus)

Figure 71.—Slime eel (Simenchelys parasiticus), off Sable Island Bank. From Goode and Bean. Drawing by H. L. Todd.


The most distinctive characters of the slime eel, its eel-like form, snub nose, long dorsal fin, and soft and slimy body, have been mentioned already (p. 150). It is stouter and more sway-bellied than the common eel, very soft, and with a more tapering tail. The dorsal fin originates a short distance behind the tips of the pectorals when the latter are laid back against the body, and the anal runs forward on the lower surface almost to the vent, which is situated about midway of the body. The head is much shorter than in either the common eel or the conger; the mouth is small, gaping back only about half way to the forward edge of the eye, with upper and lower jaws of equal length and each armed with a single series of small, close-set cutting teeth. The gill openings are small, and instead of being vertical and on the sides of the neck as they are in the common eel, they are longitudinal and lower down on the throat.


Dark brown, with the belly only a little paler than the back, though usually more or less silvery.


About 2 feet long.


It is partly parasitic in habit, burrowing into the bodies of halibut and other large fish, circumstances under which a considerable number of specimens have been brought in by fishermen. Very likely it was common inshore in the old days when halibut were plentiful there. It also lives independently on the bottom. Nothing is known of its manner of life beyond this, nor of its breeding habits. We may add from experience that it is as slimy as a hag and drips with sheets of mucus when drawn out of the water.

General range—

The continental slope, and the slopes of the offshore banks, from abreast of the eastern end of Long Island to the Newfoundland Banks, in depths ranging from 200 to more than 900 fathoms; also in deep water about the Azores, and represented in Japanese waters by an extremely close relative, if, indeed, it is separable at all from the Atlantic slime eel.[76]

Occurrence in the Gulf of Maine—

There is no definite record of the snub-nosed eel actually within the southern rim of the Gulf so far as we can learn, and our only first-hand experience with it was on the slope south of Nantucket lightship, where we captured 21 in a Monaco deep-sea trap [page 158] in 455 fathoms, on the Grampus in July 1908. It must be extremely abundant along that zone, however, for so many to find their way into the trap in as short a set as two hours. And it has been recorded so often in water as shoal as 200 fathoms that it may be expected in the bottom of the Eastern Channel and in the southeastern deeps of the Gulf of Maine.

[76] The Japanese slime eel, described first as a distinct species (leptosomus) by Tanaka in 1908, has been classed more recently by him (Fishes of Japan, vol. 42, 1928, p. 810, pl. 173, fig. 476) as identical with the Atlantic parasiticus.