Fee-fi-fo-fum: a fish that lives up to its name
The giant wrymouth, Cryptacanthodes giganteus, is the largest member of the wrymouth family, which includes four recognized species. Giant wrymouths can grow to over 5½ feet in length, compared to around 3 feet for wrymouths and a mere 1 foot for dwarf wrymouths. Keep reading to learn more about these fascinating, mysterious fish!
Meet Belle, a giant wrymouth in our care at the Seattle Aquarium. Although giant wrymouths may look like eels, they are not!
Can you spot Belle in our Puget Sound Fish habitat on your next visit to the Aquarium?
A fish that’s an ”eel” looker
Giant wrymouths, with their long, narrow bodies, are often mistaken for eels (the same is true for wolf eels, which is even more confusing because of their names!). Why are they not classified as eels? One key factor is the pectoral fins behind their heads, which is characteristic of fish and not eels. Want to learn more? Check out our infograph!
Fins, spines and eyes, oh my!
How can you recognize a giant wrymouth? Look for a long, brownish/gray body and a low dorsal fin running along the entire back. If you counted, you’d find that the dorsal fin is covered with about 70 spines. Giant wrymouths are also noted for their broad, flat heads, small eyes and large lower jaws with upward-pointing mouths.
Giant wrymouths make their homes in the northeast Pacific Ocean—from the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska to Humboldt Bay in California. Regardless of their location, they don’t move around much. They’re found on soft ocean floors, where they create and live in burrows, almost like sandy sleeping bags at the bottom of the sea. Because of their interesting living arrangements, giant wrymouths are hard to spot—and when they are, it’s often just their heads, protruding from the safety of their burrows.
Fish of mystery
Due to their hidden homes and reclusive natures, little is known about giant wrymouths in general and their reproduction in particular. Small and well-developed fry, or juvenile fish, have been observed in the northern parts of their range in the spring, which leads researchers to believe that spawning occurs in the winter. Our own observations support that belief: a female giant wrymouth in our care released eggs in February 2018.
Not enough is known about this species to know their conservation status—or, in other words, whether or not their populations are endangered. What we do know is that giant wrymouths are often accidentally caught by commercial fishers using otter trawls, or large nets that are dragged along the ocean floor. You can help them by telling your legislators that you support science-based fisheries management and choosing sustainable seafood using Seafood Watch guidelines. And, like every animal in the ocean, giant wrymouths need a healthy habitat to thrive. Visit our take action page to learn about actions you can take to preserve ocean health.