5 Monstrous Facts About Pike Eels 

STUFF OF NIGHTMARES: A picture of a sea monster is causing a stir online, after Newcastle man Ethan Tipper snapped it at...

Posted by NBN Television on Monday, February 15, 2016

Earlier this week, Australian Facebook user Ethan Tippa caught the Internet’s attention by posting a photo of a mysterious creature that had washed onto the shore of Lake Macquarie in New South Wales. Though it’s been compared to everything from a deformed crocodile to the Loch Ness Monster, the specimen was ultimately identified as a nocturnal pike eel by marine biologist Julian Pepperell. Little is known about the creatures, even though they’re fairly common to the waters of Australia and Southeast Asia. They may not be giant, mythical, or man-eating, but there are still plenty of reasons you wouldn’t want to bump into one of these guys on a midnight swim.


It’s uncertain how this recently discovered pike eel met its end, but Pepperell told the Newcastle Herald that it could have been accidentally caught in a fishing net. According to him, the eels are commonly caught by fishermen who get the "fright of their lives" after hauling up the thrashing predator, which has razor-sharp teeth that are "geared towards inflicting slashing wounds."


Some pike eels grow longer than adult humans, with an average maximum length for the species reaching 5.9 feet from nose to tail. While impressive, the creature still isn’t quite as large as many have guessed from looking at the photo above. The eel that’s pictured is estimated to have been 4.5 feet long, and while some commenters accused the image of being Photoshopped, the perspective is merely the result of a clever camera angle.


Fortunately for anyone who goes swimming in Indo-Pacific waters on a regular basis, pike eels don’t have a taste for human flesh. They prefer crustaceans and benthic fish that dwell near the soft floors of estuaries and coastal waters. The eels have been known to swim nearly 330 feet beneath the surface when hunting for their prey.


Pike eels are most commonly spotted off the coasts of Australia and Southeast Asia, but they can be found throughout the Indian Ocean. The creatures have turned up as far west as Africa's southern coast.


Despite their intimidating appearance, pike eels are perfectly safe to eat. They're sold alive and freshly killed in food markets throughout Southeast Asia, and are usually served in soup or prepared grilled with mushrooms, eggplant, or seaweed. They were even featured as a secret ingredient in an episode of the original Iron Chef series.

Header image courtesy of Ethan Tippa via Facebook.

Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)

Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

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Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]


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