‘Aliens watching us’: Meet the shrimp eel, the wriggly, worm-like creature seen burrowing on Texas beaches

Shrimp eel
Shrimp eel (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

One of the Lone Star State’s odd animal inhabitants made its viral internet debut Thursday when a curious Texas beach-goer photographed what appeared to be some sort of half-worm, half-snake creature slithering out from the sandy substrate of a Galveston beach, wriggling for a close-up.

The amateur wildlife photographer shared his photos with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Naturally, department staff members shared the sweet snaps on Facebook.

“This shrimp eel was spotted in Galveston,” the post reads. “These eels live in gulfs and bays in sandy or muddy waters.”

Needless to say, the post proved quite a conversation starter, spawning dozens of comments.

“Heart attack waiting to happen if I saw that crawling out of the earth,” wrote one commenter.

“I will no longer volunteer to be buried in the sand…” joked another.

Understandably, the serpent-like sand-burrower stirred up some mixed emotions among Texans.

“I have never heard of these! Kinda cute and scary...” wrote on commenter who both admired and feared the formidable-looking eel.

“There are aliens watching us. Didn’t know about this thing, thank you for sharing,” wrote yet another commenter.

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These eels are quite common but most Texans never see them because they often stay buried in the sediment during the day, typically abandoning their burrows at night to hunt small crustaceans, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Shrimp eels have slender snake-like bodies, broad snouts, two to three irregular rows of teeth and range in color from a dark grey, black to yellow, according to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Known formally as the Ophichthus gomesii, the shrimp eel belongs to the family Ophichthidae, also known as snake eels. If eaten whole by another fish, snake eels have been known to try and burrow their way out of the predator’s stomach according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Shrimp eels are found along the coast from North Carolina to Brazil, TWPD Science Director for Coastal Fisheries Mark Fisher told KPRC 2′s sister station KSAT.

Though it may bite if threatened, the small shrimp eel poses no real danger to humans, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. And no, shrimp eels are not in fact lying in wait just beneath the sand, squirming for a chance the chomp down on your toes, as one commenter suggested on .

“They are not dangerous to humans though we do advise giving all wildlife plenty of space,” the Texas Parks and Wildife Department added in a comment on their post.

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One eager angler captivated by the creature wanted to know if the shrimp eel could be used as bait.

“All I want to know is can I use it as bait,” he asked. The answer -- yes, though they’ll put up quite a fight, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which said that if a snake eel is caught “on hook and line, there is usually a tremendous struggle to get the eel to release itself from its burrow.”

“They are prey items for several game fish,” Fisher told KPRC 2′s sister station KSAT. “Several fishing lures have been created to mimic them, like the Norton sand eel.”

Fun fact: The largest shrimp eel caught with a rod and reel in Texas weighed .69 pounds and measured more than two feet in length, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The impressive catch was made by one Megan Gower back in August 1990. It makes us wonder what sort of game fish an angler could lure with such a long shrimp eel.

What’s the oddest critter you’ve spotted while walking along a Texas beach? Share your response in the comments below.

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About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.