At first glance it looks like seagrass, swaying in the current of a tropical reef.

But look a little closer and you’ll notice what you’re actually looking at are spotted garden eels (Heteroconger hassi).

Lisa S., a Vancouver Aquarium interpreter and sleepover coordinator, nominated this animal for January’s Staff Pick of the Month. “I think if they were pointed out to visitors more often, they would really enjoy watching them,” she says.

Spotted garden eels live in burrows reinforced by mucus made from their bodies, which ensures that the burrows won’t cave in.

Lisa poses with a giant spotted garden eel prop.

Lisa poses with a giant spotted garden eel prop.

When it senses danger the eel pulls its body into the burrow and *poof* it disappears — only to reappear when the coast is clear. “They are very cute when they slowly come out and you can actually see how big they are,” Lisa says.

They rise out of their burrows when feeding, keeping their mouths open in the direction of the current for zooplankton (microscopic animals). This is something Lisa likes to watch, “They are adorable when they eat because they have such little mouths. Come see them for yourself!”

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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