12 Chilling Facts About The Gulper Eel

It’s one of the scariest monsters floating around in the ocean, and in this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about the gulper eel.

1. The pelican eel has a huge mouth

One of the most prominent features of the gulper eel is its enormous mouth, which appears to be loosely hinged. Their mouth is actually much larger than their body itself.

This huge mouth allows this type of eel to swallow prey that is much larger than itself as well as it floats around in the deep sea.

This is the main reason this creature had made it to our list of most scary animals in the ocean!

2. The gulper eel has many names

The gulper eel is a member of the Eurypharynx genus and the Eurypharyngidae family. They used to be placed in their own order of Saccopharyngiforms, but recent studies now place them in the order Anguilliformes, an order describing all eels.

This basically makes them true eels and not some weird diversion of their family members!

The gulper eel, however, has several different names which describe this peculiar creature, such as:

  • The pelican eel
  • The pelican gulper
  • The umbrella-mouth gulper
types of gulper eels
The strange eels / Emőke Dénes / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

3. Its scientific name is a reference to the pelican

The scientific name of the gulper eel is the “Eurypharynx pelecanoides,” with the “pelecanoides” part being a reference to the pelican.

So why are gulper eels called pelican eels or a variation of such as well?

Because their lower jaw resembles the pouch-like jaw of a pelican!

4. It lives in the depths of the ocean

So do we have to fear to ever come across one of these strange creatures as we take a refreshing dive in the ocean?

Not a chance!

Pelican eels are deep-sea creatures and live at depths of between 500 and 3,000 meters (1,600 to 9,800 feet). This simply isn’t a place a human being can hang out due to the enormous pressure of the deep sea.

So no worries, just go ahead and take a dive as there’s zero chance you’ll come across one of these!

facts about the gulper eel
The scary pelican eel / Emőke Dénes / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

5. What color is the gulper eel?

Most pelican eels are pitch black but some of them can be of olive color as well. Some subspecies are known to have a white stripe across their body.

Because of their completely black body color, they are virtually invisible in the deep ocean!

What color is the gulper eel
The gulper eel is mostly completely black. / Source

6. They transform if they end up being caught

Gulper eels share a trait with their friends of the deep ocean, the blobfish, which is that they are very flimsy. They have a fragile body texture that suits them well in the deep sea.

When they accidentally end up in a fisherman’s net though, they get pulled up to the ocean surface, and the sudden change in pressure severely damages their body to the point that they become unrecognizable.

This fact makes it pretty hard to study the gulper eel, which is one of the main reasons we don’t know too much about them (apart from where they live).

gulper eel xray

7. These ocean creatures don’t have a swim bladder

One of the most interesting facts about the gulper eel is that they don’t have a swim bladder, an organ that most types of fish possess which allows them to navigate through the ocean.

They do possess, however, a special type of kidney referred to as an “aglomerular kidney,” which is believed to store gelatinous matter and serves as a substitute for the lack of a swim bladder.

This is one of the most unique features of the gulper eel!

swim bladder of a fish
the swim bladder of a fish. / Alter Welt / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

8. Gulper eels have a very long tail with a special feature

The tail of the gulper eel resembles a whip and allows them to quickly move around the deep sea. It also contains a special feature at the tip of the tail.

The organ at the tip of their tail can cast a pink glow and sometimes gives off bright red flashes. Scientists believe they use this feature to lure in prey.

The remarkable fact about this glowing hunting device is that it’s located at the opposite end of their huge mouth, which means they need to bend their body in a strange way to actually use it.

Luckily for them, all they have to do is open their gigantic mouth to actually catch the unsuspecting prey that is attracted to the light.

gulper eel tail

9. They are transparant when they are born

One of the most remarkable facts about the gulper eel is that they actually remain transparent before they reach their juvenile stage.

This is a common feature for all eels and is referred to as the “Leptocephalus stage,” the specific stage that the eel larva is transparent.

transparent eel
Transparent phase of eels / Kils / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

10. What do gulper eels eat?

The gulper eel has an enormous mouth that allows them to swallow prey that is much bigger than they are. This doesn’t mean, however, that they actually refer to swallow huge prey.

It’s believed that the favorite food of these creatures is small crustaceans. After all, they have small teeth which means they probably prefer the small goodies they can find.

It’s also assumed that their big mouth is a feature that has developed to catch larger prey in times that food is scarce.

gulper eel teeth
Gulper eels have small teeth. / Source

11. They are active hunters

It’s only since 2018 that we have learned more about the hunting behavior of the gulper eel. A group of scientists was able to capture an individual as he was actively hunting for small fish and other small creatures near the Azores Islands, about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) off the coast of Portugal.

One of the most fascinating facts about the gulper eel is that they appear to be active hunters as opposed to the original idea that they are just floating around to catch prey with their huge mouths.

They appear to stalk their prey, inflate their head, and attack small creatures they want to devour.

12. A gulper eel has been caught on camera

Pelican eels are very rare species that live in the depths of the ocean. So they are usually only spotted after they have been caught in a fishing net because, well, human beings don’t hang out at the bottom of the ocean too often.

Back in 2018, a team from E/V Nautilus was able to capture a gulper eel on camera though as it was inflating its huge mouth to catch prey!

This video was shot at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument a large area of protected ocean waters in the northwest of Hawaii.

Check out this amazing footage here: