Environmental Biology of Fishes

, 92:237

First online:

Life history and habitat use of the speckled worm eel, Myrophis punctatus, along the east coast of the United States

  • Kenneth W. AbleAffiliated withRutgers University Marine Field Station Email author 
  • , Dennis M. AllenAffiliated withBaruch Marine Field Laboratory, University of South Carolina
  • , Gretchen Bath-MartinAffiliated withNOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, Beaufort Laboratory
  • , Jonathan A. HareAffiliated withNOAA/NMFS/NEFSC, Narragansett Laboratory
  • , Donald E. HossAffiliated withNOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, Beaufort Laboratory
  • , Katrin E. MarancikAffiliated withNOAA/NMFS/NEFSC, Narragansett Laboratory
  • , Perce M. PowlesAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Trent University
  • , David E. RichardsonAffiliated withNOAA/NMFS/NEFSC, Narragansett Laboratory
  • , J. Christopher TaylorAffiliated withNOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, Beaufort Laboratory
    • , Harvey J. WalshAffiliated withNOAA/NMFS/NEFSC, Narragansett Laboratory
    • , Stanley M. WarlenAffiliated withNOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, Beaufort Laboratory
    • , Charles WennerAffiliated withSouth Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Marine Resource Research Institute

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Many species of fishes along the east coast of the United States have complex life histories, especially those that move over hundreds of kilometers across ocean and estuarine habitats. To further unravel the life history of one of these, the speckled worm eel, Myrophis punctatus we examined samples from extensive time series and discrete samples collected in the ocean and estuaries between Florida and Massachusetts. We now surmise spawning occurs between fall and early winter in the ocean south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and in the vicinity of the Bahamas. The pelagic leptocephalus larvae (10–80 mm Total Length [TL]) are transported north in the Gulf Stream and across the continental shelf to arrive at estuarine inlets at ages of 53 – 110 days. Their estuarine immigration and abundance varies along the east coast, with higher levels occurring at inlets in South Carolina (North Inlet), and North Carolina (Beaufort Inlet), during the winter and early spring. Much lower abundances occur in New Jersey (Little Egg Inlet) in winter and spring and again in the summer. These ingressing individuals were euryodontic leptocephali and metamorphic stages and were shrinking to lengths of 76–52 mm TL as these stages progressed. Metamorphic individuals and glass eels subsequently settle and burrow in estuarine sediments, as do all subsequent stages, and thereby become relatively unavailable to many sampling gears. In estuaries they attained sizes up to 440 mm TL. Later, they presumably enter the ocean to spawn because that is where the smallest larvae are found.


Speckled worm eel Myrophis punctatus Life history Leptocephali Metamorphosis